The destruction of the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities previously by the Israeli Air Force clearly 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 for two reasons:
- Firstly, Iranian nuclear facilities are in a dispersed location safely embedded into hills.
- Secondly, Israel does not have the 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 ‘AVTAR’ of 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, 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 was Osirak in Baghdad, Iraq, and the second was 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 could penetrate the hardened nuclear facility underground, where the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz is.
As of date, such 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 USA 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.
I consider Israelis 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.
I cannot comment on the flight characteristics with GBU-57 mounted on the center line, but I am certain Israeli technicians will find a way around it.
Will The US Support Israel?
Now the primary issue is – Would USAF give the GBU-57 to Israel? 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 this ordnance.
In Israel, they have a willing partner to execute the task. Let me state clearly 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 my 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 USA to introduce legislation clearing sales of GBU-57 to selected countries, with Israel being the first and possibly the only candidate.
GBU-57, also called Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), was developed in early 2000 and is the most powerful 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 USAF calls a 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 an 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, President Trump authorized a strike on ISIS tunnels in the Achin district of Nangarhar province in Afghanistan.
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 USA 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 the office of 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 USA, to stop Iran from having a nuclear arsenal. I want to protect against Iran’s aggression and against a regime that openly calls for the destruction of 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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