New F-15’s avatar called F-15EX will carry GBU-57 ‘bunker buster’

According to reports in recent weeks, the F-15EX front-line fighter will be given a special role in the Middle East. Israel’s interest in this fighter is already increasing amid a problem that Tel Aviv cannot solve – how to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities embedded deep in the rocks.

New F-15's avatar called F-15EX will carry GBU-57 'bunker buster'
Photo by USAF, Matthew Plew

Israel has experience in modifying acquired American equipment. All three available fighters forming the backbone of the Israeli Air Force [IAF] F-16I, F-15 E/I, and F-35A are quite different from those delivered anywhere in the world. It is even claimed that the Israeli F-35 Ader has much better performance and capabilities than the American F-35As.

But all three fighters cannot carry the GBU-57. However, the F-15EX will be modified to do so, by Israel, if they decide to acquire it. Currently, only the US operates this fighter. A purchase inquiry from Tel Aviv to Washington and the corresponding approval from Congress for a possible sale is pending.

Iran has long exceeded 60% enriched uranium production. This was the border set by Israel. Its achievement means that Iran has become Israel’s first military target. But Washington managed to silence Tel Aviv in 2001 when 60% of enriched uranium was transferred. Currently, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], Iran has 83.7% uranium purity. This value is very close to the cherished 90% that is already considered a weapon.

New F-15's avatar called F-15EX will carry GBU-57 'bunker buster'
Photo credit: USAF via Facebook

Israel has a track record of destroying nuclear facilities in the region. Along with the US, they were attacked in Syria. As in Iraq. But experts say Iran is a radically different case. In their opinion, an Israeli strike on Iranian facilities is a difficult task. The Israelis will have to solve two problems – are they ready to drop dozens of fighter jets on Iran, where nuclear facilities are so scattered around the country that not all of them are known. The other problem has already been mentioned – how can Israel break through rock to damage the nuclear Iranian centrifuges installed deep underground.

This is the role of the GBU-57. This bomb weighs 30,000 pounds or 14,000 kg. Of course, at the moment only the US uses it. So Israel will have to ask for this weapon as well. The purpose of the bomb, which is being developed by Boeing, is to reach and destroy “the enemy’s weapons of mass destruction located in well-protected facilities.”

The GBU-57 warhead weighs 5,342 lb [2,423 kg]. According to the characteristics of the bomb, the penetration was at a depth of 200 feet or 61 meters underground. But it is not clear what the earth’s surface is, nor what the earth’s layers are below the earth’s surface. Will the bomb have the same depth of penetration if the ground structure is stony, made up of rock fragments?

Some experts say that installing the GBU-57 on the F-15EH is an impossible, even monumental task. But, as some analysts note, Israel has proven that “impossible tasks” are in the Israeli military’s portfolio of successful tasks. At the moment, even the official administration in the White House, as well as that in the Pentagon, does not answer whether the F-15EH can carry the GBU-57. This remains a secret.

F-15E Strike Eagle flies more hours per month than the F-35
Photo by Master Sgt. Terry L. Blevins

Most likely, the Israeli Air Force will have to carry out aerial refueling of the eventually acquired F-15EHs. This aircraft can carry 18,000 pounds of fuel, leaving exactly 30,000 pounds for weapons. But if it will only carry this 30,000-pound bomb, the Israeli F-15EH will be deprived of other weapons. And this is not at all desirable, given that they will most likely be met by the Iranian Su-35, which has excellent beyond-visual range capabilities, long before they have approached their Israeli opponent.

Of course, escorting F-35s to F-15EHs is an option, but how much risk is the Israelis willing to take? As we said, Israel has proven itself in solving impossible tasks. We’ll see, but…

US must allow

Yes, the US should allow the acquisition of F-15EX and GBU-57. It was impossible before, but the situation in the White House has changed. It is said that the US administration is currently in active talks to change this policy. Plus, Washington also wants to eliminate Iran’s nuclear facilities, so they find an excellent ally in Israel.

These are all guesses. But if Israel acquires F-15EH and GBU-57, the situation becomes very difficult for the protection of nuclear facilities and countermeasures Iran. A strike would be inevitable, experts say, if Israel were to acquire such a lethal combination.

There is also a spare option – a modified S-130. If the US provides the bomb but not the plane, Israel can modify the S-130 to drop the bomb. This was already done in 2017 when ISIS tunnels in Afghanistan were attacked in this way. But then the C-130 dropped the 22,000-foot GBU-43 bomb.


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