US nears OK for huge F-15 sale: Tel Aviv’s urgent fighter need

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Reports suggest that the United States is on the verge of approving a sale contract for approximately 50 F-15 Eagle heavyweight twin-engine combat aircraft to Israel. This deal is expected to cost a staggering $18 billion in total.

Photo by Jerry McGrath

With a hefty price tag of $360 million per aircraft, these fighters are likely to be among the most expensive ever traded on an international scale. An intriguing aspect to note is that the F-15 is characterized by noticeably higher production and operational costs compared to the only other aircraft model currently in production for the U.S. Air Force, the F-35A.

Powerful aircraft

Photo credit: Boeing

Even though the F-35’s stealth capabilities are absent, the latest version of the F-15, known as the F-15EX, is highly prized for its extensive flight range. This characteristic remains unmatched in the services of the Western world. Even though its range falls short when compared to many modern Russian and Chinese fighters, such as the Su-35 recently sold to Israel’s regional competitor, Iran, Israel values the superior range of the F-15. This attribute allows for potential strikes on targets within Iranian borders. 

It’s worth noting that the F-15 is arguably the oldest fighter class still in production globally, with its maiden flight taking place in 1972. However, the F-15EX features an impressive array of capabilities such as what might possibly be the most potent fighter radar in the Western world, the APG-82. Paired with state-of-the-art avionics, an array of advanced weapons, and a modern high composite airframe, it continues to be a formidable presence.

Israeli F-15s

Photo credit: Defense News

Israel last added to their F-15 fleet back in the ’90s. This acquisition included 25 F-15I strike fighters, making up a single squadron. In addition, they obtained several dozens of the previous F-15A, B, C, and D models during the Cold War. 

Currently, Israel’s fleet of F-15s is widely recognized as the oldest still in operation worldwide. Regrettably, their operations largely depend on outdated AIM-7 air-to-air missiles and radar systems, without access to many of the newer guided weapon classes that a new F-15EX could deploy with far greater efficiency.  

Furthermore, it’s predicted that any new F-15s sold to Israel will differ from those being produced for the U.S. Air Force. These versions will likely include locally produced avionics and weaponry. Interestingly, the U.S. Department of State has already forwarded an informal notice to two legislative committees, nudging lawmakers to start legislative consideration. At least five independent sources have indicated that a potential sale of F-15s is currently under review.

Photo by Samuel King Jr.

Israel is asking for as early as 2023

Despite the substantial contraction of Israel’s economy due to ongoing conflicts with Palestinian militia groups based in the Gaza Strip, the generous military aid from the United States — unmatched by any other recipient, except Ukraine — is forecasted to compensate for a significant portion of these costs. 

Reports indicate that Israel officially requested 25 F-15s as early as January 2023, with an option to acquire an additional 25. Michael McCaul, Chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, gave the green light to this agreement in late January 2024, notifying the appropriate congressional offices accordingly. 

Photo credit: Getty Images

Israeli Minister of Defence, Yoav Gallant, voiced his desire during a visit to Washington in the last week of March for an expedited delivery of the F-15s. However, it is presently uncertain if the United States can fulfill this order, especially if the urgently needed acquisitions of the F-15EX by the U.S. Air Force are postponed to hasten this transfer.

F-15 deliveries

Undeniably, the F-15 delivery process has hit numerous roadblocks, leaving the fleet comically meager with just two aircraft back in 2023 when our Middle Eastern friend, Israel, displayed its interest. With the current pace, 2032 appears to be the earliest realistic timeline for the completion of a 50-aircraft delivery. Quite a time investment, don’t you think? 

Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane to the Cold War. During this period, when Israel first started receiving its F-15s, the U.S. defense sector was robust and buzzing, showing no signs of the prominent delays we see today in fighter production. Back in the present, Israel has seen its inventory of spare parts for the F-35 fifth-generation fighter fleet swell. This has led to a welcome upsurge in activity against targets located within Gaza, as well as its nearby neighbors Lebanon and Syria. Exciting times indeed! 

Interestingly, the F-35 boasts a series of unique avionic perks and stealth capabilities that make it a standout fleet member. But, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The F-35 meets its downfall when it comes to potential high-intensity conflicts with Iran, thanks to persistent performance issues and its limited range. All of this goes to show that, like us, even aircraft have their pros and cons to balance out!

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