In light of the current and future threats to Israel and the lessons learned from the current war in Gaza, the Israeli Air Force is expected to grow dramatically. The IAF is already working on a new plan aimed at procuring advanced aircraft and helicopters, as well as expanding aerial ammunition stockpiles.
The plan envisions a series of deals worth an estimated tens of billions of dollars to fund four squadrons of advanced fighter jets and two squadrons of combat helicopters. The IAF has also weighed the possibility of getting additional refueling aircraft.
The plan also calls for boosting the quantity of ammunition that the IDF will have at its disposal and dramatically increasing Israel’s indigenous production capabilities to increase self-reliance.
Two of the new squadrons will consist of F-35I Adir (“Mighty”) stealth fighters, which will join the two F-35 squadrons the IAF already has. Another two squadrons to be purchased will be new F-15IAs Ra’am (“Thunder”) fighters that will be modified for the IAF.
The decision to seek additional squadrons (each with 25 aircraft) is a direct result of the war but also of the understanding that Israel needs a larger and more lethal air force, one that can successfully deal with threats in near and far arenas.
The IAF decided on the parallel purchase of both types of aircraft due to their different capabilities in terms of ranges, payload and stealth characteristics. There is also an understanding that Israel should not rely on a single supplier, and also try to shorten the period necessary to produce and deliver the product.
The procurement processes for two of the combat squadrons (one of each type) started before the war, and they are at various stages of implementation. They are expected to receive final approval from the Ministerial Committee on Procurement. These processes also require various approvals in the United States, as well as agreements with the manufacturers (Lockheed Martin and Boeing).
Aiming for a future agreement
Officials estimate that the procurement of the first new F-35 squadron will be approved in the coming days. The implementation of the plan will take much longer. The F-35 aircraft would arrive over the next five years, while the first F-15s would arrive around the end of the decade. These two deals will be financed through the existing U.S.-Israel memorandum of understanding (MOU) granting Israel annual military aid.
Preparatory work has begun for the procurement of the two additional combat squadrons, the financing of which is to be done through the next U.S. security assistance agreement (the current agreement expires in 2028).
For this purpose, Israel has several working assumptions, chief among them that such a new MOU with the U.S. will indeed be signed and that its annual scope will be at least identical to the existing agreement— which stands at $3.8 billion a year.
Although there are still four years left until the end of the current MOU, Israel will try to promote a future agreement now, and perhaps even increase its scope, in view of the Biden administration’s friendly posture during the war and its overt support for Israel’s wartime needs.
Assuming all these procurement deals are approved, the fighter jet fleet will be based on three types of aircraft: 100 F-16I Sufa (“Storm”) fighters already flying in the IAF; 100 F-35 fighters, of which two squadrons have already been purchased and two more will be purchased; and three squadrons of F-15s (two of the new type, plus the F-15I Ra’am (“Thunder”) squadron, which has served in the air force for 25 years.
Completing the acquisitions would make it possible to phase the old F-15 Baz (“Eagle”) and F-16 aircraft out of service.
In parallel, the procurement of two squadrons of advanced Apache helicopter gunships is also planned. Even before the war, the IAF had planned to close down the old Apache squadron and remain with only one squadron of advanced Apaches.
The delay in responding to Hamas’s attack in the initial hours of the war and the frequent use of close ground support during the fighting made it clear that a larger fleet of combat helicopters was needed. Therefore, it was decided to immediately initiate proceedings for the purchase of one Apache squadron, and subsequently also a second squadron.
These deals have yet to be finalized or approved, but Israel hopes that can be done quickly and accelerate equipment processes, among other things based on the fact that these helicopters are mass-produced for the U.S. military.
Senior figures in Israel are also making an effort to shorten the supply processes for at least two of the four refueling aircraft already purchased. The IAF is also now considering the possibility of invoking a clause in the agreement with the U.S. by purchasing four additional refuelers, which would be received by a new squadron to be established at the Nevatim base, southeast of Beersheva.
It was also decided to significantly increase aerial ammunition stockpiles. To achieve this, two parallel processes are taking place: acceleration of procurement in the U.S. and acceleration of procurement in Israel, including opening new production lines for heavy ammunition by Israeli military industries through Elbit Systems. Elbit will also significantly increase the production of ammunition for ground forces, focusing on armored and artillery units.
The decisions made during the war are aimed at increasing Israeli self-reliance in the field of ammunition, but they will not reduce Israeli dependence on American weapon systems. Various political elements who might clash with the U.S. administration are advised to take into account that for at least the next decade and a half, Israel will still be bound to American assistance, without having an alternative.
Originally published by Israel Hayom.