US green lights potential Israeli KC-46A purchase

The US State Department has approved a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of up to eight Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tanker/transport aircraft and related equipment to the Israeli government.

Approval of the potential sale – worth US$2.4bn – was announced on March 3 by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). Following this, the DSCA notified the US Congress, which will ultimately decide if the deal goes ahead.

Israel has requested to by eight KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft – which is based on Boeing’s 767 commercial airliner – to operate in an air-to-air refuelling role.

KC-46A [Boeing/John D Parker] #1
A KC-46A Pegasus connects with a USAF F-15E Strike Eagle during an air-to-air refuelling test over California in 2018. Boeing/John D Parker

The sale includes up to 17 Pratt & Whitney PW4062 turbofan engines – 16 will be installed on the aircraft with one spare. It also includes up to 18 of Raytheon’s Miniature Airborne Global Positioning System (GPS) Receivers 2000 (otherwise known as MAGR 2K-GPS), enhanced with selective availability anti-spoofing modules (SAASM). The deal also includes an unspecified number of AN/ARC-210 U/VHF radios and Raytheon APX-119 Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponders, along with initial spares, technical data, logistics support and training with relevant equipment.

The DSCA said: "The [US] is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready [self-defence] capability. This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives.”

It goes on to say “the proposed sale further supports the foreign policy and national security of the [US] by allowing Israel to provide a redundant capability to US assets within the region, potentially freeing US assets for use elsewhere during times of war. Aerial [refuelling] and strategic airlift are consistently cited as significant shortfalls for our allies. In addition, the sale improves Israel’s national security posture as a key US ally. Israel will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces.”

KC-46A [US Air National Guard/TSgt John Winn] #1
A KC-46A Pegasus - assigned to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing, based from McConnell AFB, Kansas - flies behind a KC-135R Stratotanker from the Utah Air National Guard's 151st Air Refueling Wing in November 2019. US Air National Guard/TSgt John Winn

In delivering the KC-46A to Israel, the principal contractors will be Boeing Defense – which will provide the aircraft, performing work at its facility in Everett, Washington – and Raytheon, which will provide the MAGR 2K-GPS SAASM, working from Waltham, Massachusetts. 

If approved, the Israeli Air Force will become the third air arm to order the type, following the US Air Force (USAF) and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). Israel currently uses eight Boeing KC-707s in an air-to-air refuelling role under 120 ‘Desert Giants’ Squadron, at Nevatim air base. The ten 707 airliners were modified by Israel Aerospace Industries in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Two aircraft have since been withdrawn from service, with the KC-46A expected to replace Israel’s ageing KC-707 fleet entirely.

News of the possible sale comes as Boeing continues to fix some fundamental issues with its troubled tanker that have caused persistent problems for the USAF. This includes the Remote Vision System (RVS), used during aerial refuelling. Further exports of the type place increased faith in the Pegasus overcoming these shortfalls.