Israel made the first step toward the replacement of the IAF’s aging refueling tanker fleet: the Government of Israel has submitted a Letter of Request (LoR) to the US Government, for the acquisition of two new Boeing KC-46 refueling tankers. The new tankers will replace the old Boeing-707 tankers, IAF designation Re’em, which have been in service for several decades.
The procurement deal for the new tankers is yet to be signed, and at this point, the request is for the acquisition of two aircraft with an option for the future acquisition of an additional six. Sources at the Boeing Corporation estimate that the first refueling tanker will be delivered to Israel in 2022 or 2023. Once the transaction has been signed, Boeing will commence manufacturing of the new aircraft for the IAF.
Airborne refueling tankers are vital for the IAF to extend its long strategic reach. They provide the air force with the ability to reach countries within the third, distant circle. The Boeing KC-46 aircraft, regarded as the world’s most advanced airborne refueling tankers, can refuel almost all of the fighter aircraft currently in IAF service, such as the F-35, F-15 and F-16, as well as the C-130 transporters and one another. These modern tankers utilize the boom airborne refueling method, which is faster than older methods, and can carry larger fuel quantities compared to the older tankers.
The crew of the KC-46 consists of two pilots, a refueling officer (boomer) and a loadmaster when the aircraft operates in the transport configuration. The aircraft is CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) capable, has night vision and special lighting systems enabling operation under any weather conditions, during the day and night. The cost of each tanker for Israel has not been specified (it will be determined by the US Air Force), but the Japanese Air Force has recently acquired refueling tankers of this type at the cost of about $170 million per aircraft.