Amid Iran tensions, Israel said to ask US to speed up delivery of air refuelers

With threats from Tehran following blast at nuclear facility blamed on Jerusalem, Israel reportedly wanting to receive KC-46 Pegasuses, despite design problem, within 2 years

A US Air Force Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling plane connects to a F-35 fighter jet over California, January 22, 2019. (Wikipedia, public domain, US Air Force photo by Ethan Wagner)
A US Air Force Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling plane connects to a F-35 fighter jet over California, January 22, 2019. (Wikipedia, public domain, US Air Force photo by Ethan Wagner)

Israel has asked the US Department of Defense to speed up delivery of its KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling aircraft, as tensions rise with Iran.

In March the US Department of Defense announced approval to sell new KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling aircraft to Israel, with delivery expected in four years.

However, Channel 12 news reported Wednesday that Israel has requested that the aircraft be delivered within two years.

The report came amid an uptick in tensions with Iran, with Tehran on Tuesday calling for action against Israel following a recent blast at the Natanz nuclear facility that has been blamed on Jerusalem.

This photo released July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Iran appeared to publicly acknowledge on Tuesday that last week’s fire at Natanz, which badly damaged a building used for producing centrifuges, was not an accident.

Israeli TV reports, without naming sources, have said the blast destroyed the laboratory in which Iran developed faster centrifuges and set back the Iranian nuclear program by one or two years.

Last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tehran that Israel’s F-35 fighter jets can reach “anywhere in the Middle East,” following threats against Israel by senior Iranian officials.

The F-35 stealth jet is not believed to have an effective range to reach Iran unassisted, but it could conduct operations there with in-air refueling.

Fighter jets from the IAF’s second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel (IDF spokesperson)

Israel is to buy up to eight of the Boeing-built KC-46 refueling aircraft and related equipment for an estimated $2.4 billion.

The multi-role aircraft makes mid-air refueling possible for fighter jets and other aircraft, but can also be used for military transport.

The planes would replace the Israeli Air Force’s current fleet of aging refueling planes, which includes KC-130 Hercules and converted Boeing 707s.

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.

Additionally, on Tuesday the US came closer to fully approving the sale of 990 million liters of special jet fuel to Israel, to be purchased with $3 billion of US defense aid money.

According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, the sale will include JP-8 aviation fuel, diesel, and unleaded gasoline, but must be approved by the US Congress before a contract can be signed.

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