Israel pushing to accelerate F-15EX purchase as Iran threat builds?

In late May, Jerusalem was signalling to the US that if Iran continues its apparent race to attack Israel, action may be taken to stop it. This explains the pressure being placed by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) on increasing the number of Boeing F-15IAs to 50 aircraft and starting deliveries as soon as possible.

Israel’s quest to acquire the F-15EX began in 2020, when the Israeli government made a general decision to acquire additional F-35s and F-15s, but while a contract for the former has been signed, the acquisition of Advanced Eagles was left on paper. In January 2023, the Israeli Ministry of Defence (MOD) issued a Letter of Request (LOR) for 25 F-15EXs, which will be known as F-15IAs in operational IAF service. Now, the IAF has expressed an urgent need for more F-15s that can be equipped with weapons systems developed in Israel that are tailored to destroy “hardened” targets, such as the Iranian nuclear sites. The F-15EX carries more weapons than any other fighter in its class and can launch hypersonic missiles up to 22ft long and weighing up to 7,000lb.

A Boeing F-15EX Eagle II (serial 20-0002 'OT' '53 WG') of the the USAF's 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron lands at Nellis AFB, Nevada, on October 15, 2021. Israel plans to acquire 25 examples of the type, which will be known as the F-15IA in IAF service.
A Boeing F-15EX Eagle II (serial 20-0002 'OT' '53 WG') of the USAF's 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron lands at Nellis AFB, Nevada, on October 15, 2021. Israel plans to acquire 25 examples of the type, which will be known as the F-15IA in IAF service. USAF/William R Lewis

The IAF initially wanted to acquire 25 F-15EXs in parallel to upgrading 25 of its existing F-15Is to the same avionics configuration of the latest, most advanced variant of the Eagle family to date – except for the fly-by-wire flight control system. However, an Israeli defence source has said that budget limitations could affect the “scope” of the planned F-15I upgrade.

When Israel made a decision to buy more F-15s and F-35s, it was based on the assumption that in future combat scenarios, enemy targets will be protected by very advanced air defence systems. This will require a first wave of F-35I Adirs to neutralise enemy air defences. The new defence relations between Russia and Iran make Israel’s operational need for additional F-15s more urgent. This comes after reports that Moscow may sell its S-400 Triumf (SA-21 Growler) air defence systems to Iran, which plans to deploy them to protect its nuclear sites.

At present, the IAF operates approximately 48 F-15A/B/C/D Eagles in addition to 25 F-15I Ra’ams. A defence source added that now the F-15EX LOR has been issued, first deliveries of the type to Israel can be expected in 2028 at the earliest. The Israeli government may ask the US to start this process earlier.

Israel’s F-15 fleet is essential not only to attack targets in Iran but also to achieve a fast neutralisation of accurate rockets launched by Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy terrorist group, from Lebanon. The General Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces has prepared a target bank that will be heavily attacked if Hezbollah starts launching as a result of an Israeli action or as a “supportive act” if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear sites.