OPED By Gp Cpt TP Srivastava
On May 23, Chief of Staff of Israeli Defense Forces Lt Gen Herzi Halevi said, “Israel may take action against Iranian Nuclear Facilities due to possible negative developments on the horizon. Israel has the ability.”
In January 2023 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) detected Uranium particles enriched to 83.7% purity. Uranium enriched to 90% purity is considered weapon-grade Uranium.
Israel made a definite statement in 2021 that if Iran crosses the 60% purity mark, Israel will consider military action. Iran achieved 60% purity in April 2021.
Iran also added thousands of fast advanced centrifuges for Uranium enrichment. But the US has convinced Israel not to escalate the issue, given the current global instability. However, Iran appears to have breached the nuclear threshold.
Past Strikes By Israel On Nuclear Plants
Destruction of Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities by the Israeli Air Force enunciated Israel’s resolve to ensure that nations, which do not recognize Israel as a nation-state, will not be allowed to develop nukes.
Is Iran in the same basket? However successful strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities will not be as simple as it was in the case of Iraq and Syria due for two reasons:
- Firstly, Iranian nuclear facilities are in dispersed locations safely embedded into hills.
- Secondly, Israel has no weapon to penetrate such facilities embedded in hills.
Can Israel Strike Iranian Facilities?
However, weapons capability limitation is likely to be overcome by Israel. The resurrection of the F-15 Eagle as a front-line fighter of the USAF has not made the headlines it deserved.
A new avatar of the F-15 called F-15EX is already under production with advanced avionics, ECM/ECCM suite, and powerful AESA radar.
But the most astonishing change in F-15EX is supposed to be its enhanced weapon-carrying capability.
As per Boeing, the F-15EX will be capable of carrying a whopping 29,500 pounds of weapons. If the claim is valid, it will be the highest weapon load carried by any fighter anywhere in the world.
The strategic significance of the modified F-15 variant will be enormous. Israel has already shown as much interest in acquiring the F-15EX as in acquiring the airplane of the century, the F-35A.
Acquisition of F-15EX will allow Israel to consider and plan the third strike on a nuclear reactor, the first being Osirak in Baghdad, Iraq, and the second in the Syrian Al Kibar facility.
IAF inventory comprises F-16I, F-15 E/I, and recently acquired F-35A. None of these aircraft can carry a weapon that will penetrate the hardened nuclear facility underground, where the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz is located.
As of date, such a weapon exists in the inventory of USAF only and is banned for export to any country, Israel included.
Israeli Air Force has modified every weapon platform imported from the US and operates it with a different suffix. For instance, an F-15 Strike Eagle of USAF suitably modified by Israel is called F-15I Ra’am (Thunder).
They consider it in the class of a strategic aircraft. However, even this aircraft cannot carry a 30,000-pound GBU-57, the heaviest weapon with precision guidance.
Israelis are capable of modifying the new variant of the F-15 to carry the GBU-57. F-15 is supposed to be capable of taking off with a maximum take-off weight of about 80,000 pounds. The empty weight of the F-15 is about 32,000 pounds; thus, about 48,000 pounds is available for fuel and weapons.
Excluding 30,000 pounds of GBU-57, an F-15 can carry 18,000 pounds of fuel with the option of mid-air refueling at a suitable juncture of the flight. Indeed mounting a GBU-57 on the center line of the F-15EX will be a monumental and possibly impossible task. But IAF is known to have pulled off the ‘impossible’ before on numerous occasions.
A GBU-57 mounted on the center line of the aircraft might create issues with the center of gravity position, but Israeli technicians will find a way around it.
Will The US Support Israel?
Now the fundamental issue: Will Israel get the GBU-57 from USAF? So far, it has been a ‘no.’ But all this is about to change with the US administration actively considering removing the ban on the sale of these ordnance. The present US administration headed by Joe Biden is determined to see Iran’s nuclear capability destroyed.
In Israel, the US has a willing partner to execute the task. It must be clarified that USAF has declined to comment on whether F-15EX will be capable of carrying a GBU-57 and if there are any future plans.
It is only a conjecture because if Israel can deliver a massive ordnance penetrator bomb like the GBU-57, Israel will have a qualitative military edge and a threat to Iran’s nuclear facility.
Efforts are in progress by two members of the House of Representatives in the US to introduce legislation clearing sales of GBU-57 to selected countries, with Israel being the first and possibly the only candidate. GBU-57, called Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), was developed in early 2000 and is the most potent bunker-busting weapon.
USAF also has a new deep penetration weapon called Global Precision Attack Weapon (GPAW) being developed for the future bomber of the USAF, the B-21, and is a few years away from being operational.
GPAW is a product of what the USAF calls the Next Generation Penetrator (NGP). NGP is expected to be much smaller in size and weight (one-third of GBU-57) and is likely to be mounted on the F-35.
Israel may have another option of dropping GBU-57 if made available. The alternate platform might be a modified C-130 aircraft. One might recall that sometime in 2017, then President Trump authorized a strike on ISIS tunnels located in the Achin district of Nangarhar province in Afghanistan.
The mission was flown by a modified C-130 called MC-130, which carried a GBU-43, Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) weighing about 22,000 pounds.
If the US provides Israel with F-15EX and GBU-57, a strike on Iran’s nuclear facility will be inevitable. Even without F-15EX, Israel will execute the mission by modifying their existing C-130 to carry the GBU-57.
On assuming office as PM of Israel, Netanyahu said, “JCPOA is a horrible agreement. The deal fails to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.
He added Israel would do whatever is necessary, with or without consent from the US, to stop Iran from having a nuclear arsenal. I want to protect against Iran’s aggression and against a regime that openly calls for destroying my country.”
Does it leave any doubt about Israel’s future course of action?
- Gp Cpt TP Srivastava (Retd) is an ex-NDA who flew MiG-21 and 29. He is a qualified flying instructor. He commanded the MiG-21 squadron. He is a directing staff at DSSC Wellington and chief instructor at the College of Air Warfare. VIEWS PERSONAL
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