[Freemanlist2] Yaakov Katz - IAF to ask US for new cutting-edge jets - Security and Defense: The sky's the limit
Freeman Center For Strategic Studies
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Fri Apr 20 10:14:58 CDT 2007
Security and Defense: The sky's the limit
Yaakov Katz, THE JERUSALEM POST Apr. 19, 2007
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Defense Minister Amir Peretz review an honor guard at a military base in Tel Aviv.
They are called the pilots of the Israel Air Force's "International Squadron" - not due to their diverse backgrounds, but to their having crisscrossed the globe and flown missions to more than 100 different countries.
They flew prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's armored limousine to Morocco in 1993; airlifted 5,000 of the 15,000 Ethiopian Jews brought to Israel during Operation Solomon in 1991; and transported ammunition from the United States - and a chemical agent from France for fire extinguishing - during the Second Lebanon War last summer.
Alongside these missions however, the International Squadron, also known as Squadron 120, is mainly responsible for the midair refueling of the IAF's wide array of F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. With Iran racing toward nuclear power and estimations that a military strike is a possible option to stop its nuclear program, this capability is turning into a strategic asset.
"While the fighter jets do the work, it is up to the fuel tankers to get them to where they need to go," Lt.-Col. A. told The Jerusalem Post during a recent visit to squadron headquarters near Tel Aviv.
Established in 1963 by then-OC air force Ezer Weizman, the IAF's aerial refueling squadron has participated in some of the most fascinating and sensitive operations in the country's history, some of them still classified. Its first aircraft were Hercules and Dakotas but in 1972, the IAF received its current fleet of Boeing 707s, called Re'em (antelope) in Hebrew. The fleet also consists of a number of KC-130 tankers.
In recent years, due to developments in the region, the squadron has increased its training regimen, A. revealed. Last September, Time magazine reported that IAF fighters were conducting "a lot of refueling training." Over the last year, the squadron's pilots have clocked in more than 1,000 flight hours.
"We are prepared for every mission at any possible range and we are essentially the IAF's long arm," A. explained, without mentioning Iran. "Our business is aerial refueling at any altitude, in any weather, at night and during the day."
He said the squadron has trained and drawn up plans for a wide range of missions, including those requiring midair refueling on the way to the target and again on return. In such missions, the tankers - large planes that make easy targets for enemy anti-aircraft missiles - would deploy at a standoff point outside range.
"We are prepared to refuel planes any place in the world," A. said. "Our preference always is to get the plane the closest we can to its target."
While Israel is still far away from deciding to launch a strike against Iran, according to Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom, a senior researcher with the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, the IAF's tankers would play a crucial role in any such operation.
IAF fighters have carried out long-range missions, some with refueling support and some without. In 1981, F-16s bombed the Osirak reactor near Baghdad and returned on their last drops of fuel and, without midair refueling. In 1985, however, Squadron 120 was activated for the IAF's longest-range air strike, when fighters flew more than 2,000 kilometers to bomb PLO headquarters in Tunis.
WHETHER TANKERS would be used during a hypothetical strike on Iran would depend on the route used by the air force. The quickest and most convenient route would be over Jordan and Iraq, although it would not be simple. According to Brom, the IAF would be best off flying the longer route over the Indian Ocean, with minimal penetration of any other state's air space.
"Flying through Jordan without the explicit or implicit permission of the Jordanians would hurt relations with a friendly Arab state," Brom wrote in a recent article in the book Getting Ready for a Nuclear Iran. "Flying over Iraq without coordination with the United States would lead to a clash with US interceptors."
According to Brom, the jets would need to fly low to avoid radar detection, and as a result they would burn more fuel. "It means that the attack aircraft would need to be refueled at least twice, on their way to the targets and from the targets," he wrote.
Squadron 120 saw action in Lebanon last summer, when its pilots clocked in 400 flying hours, refueling fighters that were hunting for Katyusha rocket launchers.
Tragedy has also struck the squadron. In September 1971, an airplane was hit by an Egyptian SA-2 anti-aircraft missile and exploded. Seven airmen were killed and one survived, after he quickly put on a parachute and jumped to safety.
THE PRIMARY plane used by the squadron - the Boeing 707 - weighs 151 tons, can carry 87 tons of fuel and has a range of 5,000 km., with flight capability at altitudes from 300 feet-4,200 feet. Inside the 707, the cargo hold is lined with fuel tanks, all connected with metal pipes that lead to the back of the plane where the "gas hose" extends and connects to the "client" - the plane receiving the fuel.
The system used to refuel planes was developed by Israel Aerospace Industries. The airman who operates the refueling system is called a "boomer" - the name given to the 40-foot gas tailpipe hose that connects to the top of fighters.
The boomer, wearing specially designed 3D glasses, sits in the back of the plane in front of a computer console, and with a joystick moves the pipe into the receiving plane. The bottom of the fuel tanker is lined with a traffic light-like system that assists the plane receiving the fuel in lining up behind the tanker.
With an eye to the future, A. is waiting anxiously for 2020, the year he believes unmanned aerial vehicles will operate as refueling tankers. The air force is also considering modernizing its refueling fleet and converting US-manufactured executive jets, such as the Gulfstream G550, into tankers.
"If you have fuel, you can reach distant targets, better utilize your assets and carry larger amounts of weapons," IAF Brig.-Gen. Yohanon Loker said in a conference on aerial refueling several months ago.
The advantage of unmanned refueling tankers is that they would minimize the risk to pilots and would be harder for enemy radar to spot because they are relatively small. They would also be able to spend extended periods in the air - some can stay airborne for 24 hours - without the need to refuel or land to switch pilots.
But until the refueling UAVs come into service, Lt.-Col. A. and his men plan to continue taking to the skies to support IAF warplanes and transport aircraft, as they head out for missions around the world while chanting their motto: "Any place, any time and in any weather."
IAF to ask US for new cutting-edge jets
YAAKOV KATZ, MARK WEISS and HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, THE JERUSALEM POST Apr. 20, 2007
In the face of Iran's race to obtain nuclear weapons, the Israel Air Force has expressed newfound interest in receiving the F-22 - a US-developed fifth generation stealth fighter jet - and has requested that the Defense Ministry present the request on its behalf to the Pentagon, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
While the sale or transfer of F-22s to Israel did not come up in talks Wednesday between Defense Minister Amir Peretz and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, defense officials told the Post that Israel would ask to receive the aircraft in order to retain its "military edge" in the Middle East.
Gates was here for talks with government officials on a range of key strategic issues including American plans - which Israel has objected to - to sell smart bombs to Saudi Arabia.
The F-22 formally entered operational service in the US Air Force in December 2005 but has not yet been sold outside the US due to a federal law which barred export sale of the aircraft.
Last March, however, Congress lifted the nine-year ban on its sale, potentially clearing the path for an Israeli purchase of what is considered the most advanced fighter jet in the world today.
The single-seater, double-engine aircraft can achieve stealth though a combination of its shape, composite materials, color and other integrated systems.
A positive US decision on the issue in the coming months could see the F-22 in Israel by the end of decade, years before the IAF is expected to begin receiving the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) - another stealth fighter under development - also known as the F-35, expected in 2014.
On Thursday, Gates tried to ease Israeli concerns about the planned American weapons sale to Saudi Arabia as well as other US Gulf allies, saying that Washington remained committed to preserving Israel's military edge over its neighbors.
Gates also said his 24-hour trip to Israel did not include any discussions on taking military action against Iran. He reiterated his belief that diplomacy was the best course of action for halting Iran's nuclear program.
Israeli officials have objected to US plans to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and other moderate Gulf states, fearing it would damage Israel's deterrent capabilities in the Middle East. The New York Times reported earlier this month that Washington had delayed the arms sale package because of the objections.
Speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv before his departure, Gates said he had urged Israeli leaders to look at the deal in terms of the "overall strategic environment" and stressed that Israel's neighbors had other alternatives for purchasing arms.
"I'm confident that the Russians would be very happy to sell weapons to countries in the region," he said. Gates said he affirmed the US would continue to help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge, but did not say whether the Saudi deal would go through. Israel is particularly worried about the planned sale of advanced air systems that would vastly upgrade the striking ability of Saudi warplanes, some of which could be stationed just several hundred kilometers from Israeli airspace.
In response to Israeli concerns about the deal, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington earlier this month that Israel's qualitative military edge "is something that we are dedicated to helping Israel preserve for a number of different reasons - for their defensive needs, for the deterrent nature of that edge, as well as allowing Israel to take calculated risk in the interest of peace. So in any consideration of arms sales in the region, this is an important factor along with our good, strong, close historical relations with countries in the Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia."
But the State Department on Thursday didn't indicate that the F-22 would be available to help preserve that edge.
The F-22, a State Department official told The Jerusalem Post, "is not available for international sale. There is specific legislation to that effect since 1997."
Last year, the House appropriations committee did vote to overturn the ban on foreign sales of the F-22, but couldn't get the measure through the House.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who sponsored the legislation, said that the issue "is still a high priority for her" but that the measure had not yet been reintroduced in the new Congress.
Another Granger aide pointed to several foreign countries that might be interested in buying the sophisticated fighter jet, but said that his office had not been in contact with Israel.
Later in the day, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert updated Gates on recent diplomatic developments vis- -vis the Palestinians and on the first indications of the change in the Arab world's attitude towards Israel.
The two men said that strategic changes under way in the Middle East indicated that moderate Arab countries were preparing to deal with the phenomenon of extremist Islam, the main danger to regional stability.
Olmert said that these changes had considerable influence on the desire to reach peace with Israel and on progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Regarding Syria, Olmert reiterated that Israel had no intention of attacking Syria and he made it clear that both sides needed to be wary of any miscalculation that could lead the two countries into a confrontation that neither was interested in.
Concerning Lebanon, Olmert deplored the smuggling of weapons to Hizbullah from Syria. He added that the international community must take steps to ensure that UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was implemented in full.
The two men also discussed a series of regional issues and bilateral security and strategic relations.
In her talks with Gates, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned that the countries under threat from Iran were testing the Free World and vacillation was perceived as weakness. This might create a desire to appease Iran, she said. Livni cautioned that only the determination of the international community would keep the "moderate camp" on the same side.
"We live in a neighborhood in which a projected image is very meaningful," she said. "If the impression is that the world is losing to the 'neighborhood bully,' they will want to join him." Before leaving Israel, Gates visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, accompanied by Peretz.
AP contributed to this report.
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