Israel said to send formal request to US for 25 advanced F-15-EX fighter jets

Israel has sent a formal request to the United States to purchase 25 advanced F-15-EX fighter jets with an eye to boosting its capabilities to strike Iran, the Breaking Defense news site reported.

The Defense Ministry sent an official Letter of Request (LOR) to the US last week, the Thursday report said, citing industry sources. The LOR is the first step in the process that will now see Israel and the US negotiate over the exact number of jets and the price of the Boeing-manufactured warplanes.

The Defense Ministry and the US Embassy in Jerusalem both declined to comment on the report.

According to the report, Israel had made the decision in 2020 to bolster both its fleet of F-35 stealth fighters and its F-15 fleet, but due to recent political instability, only the F-35 decision was carried out. Now, following the election of the new government last month, the decision was taken to move ahead with the F-15 deal.

The military is now looking to add to and upgrade its existing fleet of F-15s, which can carry the kind of heavy weapons Israel would need to penetrate Iran’s nuclear sites, most of which are buried deep underground.

According to Boeing, the F15-EX “carries more weapons than any other fighter in its class, and can launch hypersonic weapons up to 22 feet long and weigh up to 7,000 pounds.”

An Israeli F-15 fighter jet is seen in the skies over Israel, ahead of the Blue Flag exercise in October 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The US Air Force received its first version of the F-15 EX in 2021 and this week said that after two years of testing, the jet exceeded expectations in terms of number and tonnage of weapons carried, Fox News reported.

The sources told Breaking Defense that the earliest Israel would likely receive the new jets would be in 2028, but that Israel would push for faster delivery. It also said Israel could opt to double the initial order of 25 aircraft.

The report also said that Israel’s decision was made more urgent by the burgeoning defense ties between Iran and Russia and fears that Moscow could supply Iran with the advanced S-400 anti-aircraft defense system.

It also said that Israel relies on the F-15s to target the hundreds of thousands of rockets operated by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

Many of Israel’s F-15 fighter jets — known in Hebrew as the “Baz,” or “Falcon” — were first constructed and delivered in the 1970s, though they have been upgraded and refurbished in the interim decades.

If the deal goes through and Israel returns to purchasing F-15s, it would mark the first Boeing fighter jet acquisition by the Israeli Air Force in two decades. In the years since, Israel has bought 100 F-16s and another 50 F-35 stealth jets from Boeing’s chief competitor, Lockheed Martin.

An Israel Air Force F-15 flies overhead during an exercise in the Golan Heights on February 23, 2014. (Gu Ashash/Israel Air Force/Flickr)

In a series of farewell interviews last week, outgoing IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi reiterated that Iran was the main focus of the Israeli military, which was working to ensure it had the capabilities to go it alone if necessary to stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Kohavi told the Walla news site that a potential attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was the “main task” faced by the army, and vowed that “the IDF would be ready to carry out its mission on the day of the order.”

In light of the growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal with Western powers, the past two years have seen the IDF ramp up efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites.

Israel has been pushing for the US to prepare military contingency plans in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. US President Joe Biden has said he is prepared to use military force if necessary but still prefers to exhaust the diplomatic route first.

Asked what would happen if the US did not join Israel in such a strike, Kohavi said that “Israel must have the capability to perform this operation, also if it means we act alone.”

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