Certified To Refuel F-35 Fighters, US ‘Shoots-Down’ Israeli Request For Speedy Delivery Of Boeing Mid-Air Refuellers

The US had approved the sale of up to eight Boeing KC-46 refueling aircraft to Israel in March 2020 to replace the latter’s Re’em (Boeing 707) tankers. But Washington refused to fast-track the delivery of the aircraft.

The KC-46 Pegasus is a wide-body multi-mission aircraft developed by Boeing under a contract with the US Air Force. The contract called for the procurement of 179 KC-46 tankers to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of KC-135 tankers which had been in service since 1965. The KC-46 is capable of transporting fuel, cargo, passengers, as well as patients.

While the aircraft is based on the design of the Boeing KC-767, modifications were made to its airframe to incorporate an additional cargo door and a flight deck display.

The KC-46 refueller is equipped with threat detection and avoidance systems, making it suitable for military operations. The aircraft is 50.5 m long, with a wingspan of 47.5 m, height of 16.1 m and has a maximum cargo capacity of 29,484 kg, according to Airforce Technology.

Boeing KC-46
A US Air Force KC-46A refuels an F-35A over California in January 2019. (Wikipedia)

The KC-46 is certified to refuel most of the US Air Force aircraft including F-15, F-16, F-22 and F-35 fighters; B-52 and B-1 bombers; C-5 and C-17 airlifters; and a host of other aircraft, including all variants of the Navy’s sea-based F/A-18 fighter, Forbes reported.

Boeing was awarded the contract for manufacturing the KC-46A tanker in February 2011. The company announced the major suppliers involved in the project in June 2011 and the Integrated Baseline Review (IBR) for the program was completed in August.

The Air Force then signed a contract worth $2.1 billion for the third production lot of 15 KC-46A aircraft in January 2017, as reported by The EurAsian Times.

America Rejects Israel’s Request 

The US State Department had agreed to a possible sale of eight KC-46 tanker aircraft and related equipment to Israel at a cost of $2.4 billion in March 2020. According to this deal, Israel was going to receive two of the Boeing KC-46 tankers by late 2023.

However, Israel had asked the US to speed up the delivery of the KC-46 aircraft, as the country was presumably planning to conduct airstrikes on Iran. According to reports, the Biden administration denied the request saying that the first plane will not be delivered before 2024, The Times of Israel reported.

The KC-46 aircraft are going to replace Israel’s Re’em (Boeing 707) tanker aircraft for conducting long-range military missions. The Israeli Re’em aircraft, the number of which remains confidential, were originally civilian aircraft that were later customized for aerial refueling. They also served as transport aircraft before being grounded last year, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The new Boeing KC-46 tanker aircraft will allow a dozen of Israeli bomber aircraft to stay in air for up to 12 hours at a range of over 11,000 km. These aircraft can refuel jets with 1,200 gallons of fuel per minute with the help of its fly-by-wire 55 feet refueling boom.

With its wing air refueling pods, the KC-46 can refuel three jets simultaneously within three to four minutes. This would provide the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with a great advantage for conducting any operations against Iran which is situated around 1000 km away from Israel’s borders.

IDF was still hopeful that the US might speed up the delivery of two of the KC-46 jets, Ynet reported. According to reports, the US and Israel are also planning to conduct large joint exercises to prepare for a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear sites.