Israel’s KC-46s: A background story

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

Back in March 2020 headlines indicated Israel would get eight KC-46 refueling aircraft. This was said to be in the context of Iran tensions.

Now Israel wants delivery expedited. This was reported by Channel 12 in Israel. On July 8 the channel reported: “Israel has in recent days asked the United States to advance the supply of new American refueling aircraft. At the same time, the US government yesterday approved the sale of 990 million liters of jet fuel to Israeli fighter jet.” Channel 12 had previously reported this aircraft was key to dealing with tensions with Iran. “Israel purchased advanced and improved billion-dollar aircraft from the United States. First, Israel will receive 2 aircraft and then 6 more Boeing aircraft. The innovative aircraft has the ability to carry arms and the ability to attack targets from hundreds of miles away from the enemy state airspace.”

It has support from groups such as JINSA.

JINS noted “Financing options are generally more straightforward and simpler than the uncertainty of U.S. weapons production capacity. Israel is already in the process of acquiring additional F-35 aircraft, but delayed deliveries of KC-46 tankers – the U.S. Air Force only began receiving them earlier this year – potentially could push back Israel’s acquisition of these important platforms to 2022-23.” The group proposed frontloading or loans of the aircraft.

 

The aircraft itself had many delays and issues and it wasn’t clear why Israel chose it;

 

The first announcements noted: “Just in: State Dept OK’s a possible$2.4 billion sale of eight KC-46 tankers to Israel. Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Dave Goldfein told Congress today that the tanker program has serious problems.”

Delivery would take two years;

 

It was part of a larger program;

 

Israel was also considering back in 2016 a converted 767. The Obama administration had greenlighted this deal for the KC-46 apparently.

The overall story is interesting and has been reported at most Israeli media. See articles hereand here and here.  The Jerusalem Post notes “But while Israel has not yet officially signed a Letter of Approval, during a discussion on Wednesday between Jerusalem and Washington, Israel asked that it be given two planes which were earmarked for the US Air Force by next year and that the USAF takes the two planes that were to be given to Israel in another two years.”

The KC-46s are supposed to replace Israel’s older fleet of KC-130 Hercules and converted Boeing 707s. Times of Israel notes:  “The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said Israel’s having its own KC-46s would help back up the US military’s own, ‘potentially freeing US assets for use elsewhere during times of war.’ The proposed sale came despite delays in the Pegasus program, with the main question about the design of its refueling function. The US Air Force has found significant problems with the KC-46’s remote vision system, essential in trying to line up and attach the refueling boom to the aircraft seeking to fill up its tanks. US Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein said earlier Boeing was being pressed to address the problem.”

The KC-46 has only a few foreign customers so far and it had many technical difficulties. The overall program’s issues were detailed here. Congress even wondered about alternatives,given the delays and problems. Fixes keep being made. There are many questions about the plane. Air Force Times has a video about it.

Israel has addressed its aging fleet of refuelers through purchasing other planes to use for parts, as recently as 2017.

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