Israel's 5 Most Lethal Weapons of War in the Sky
The Israeli Air Force was founded on May 28, 1948, exactly two weeks after the founding of the State of Israel. A motley force of veteran World War II pilots and obsolete aircraft, it has matured into one of the most powerful air forces in the world.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been instrumental in Israel’s defense, providing air superiority over Israel, close air support over Israeli ground forces, and performing strikes against targets deep in the enemy’s homeland. Over the past three decades it has also taken on a counterterrorism role, using airstrikes to assassinate terrorist leaders and destroy caches of weapons from the Tunis to the Sudan.
The IAF has an estimated 648 aircraft of all types, manned and serviced by 35,000 active duty personnel. An additional 24,500 reservists can be called up during wartime. At total mobilization, the IAF enjoys a comfortable ratio of 91 personnel for every one aircraft, far above the Egyptian Air Force’s 30 to one ratio and the Royal Saudi Air Force’s 38 to one.
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F-15A/C Baz (“Falcon”)
Israel received its first F-15 Eagle fighters as part of the “Peace Fox” program. Four F-15As—the precursor to the F-15C—were delivered on December 10, 1976. At the time, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Mordecai Gur said of the fighter, “A state with F-15s no longer resembles a state without them.” Israel would eventually be equipped with 58 F-15 fighters.
A lot was riding on the F-15, which the IAF anticipated would give Israel air supremacy over its territory and air superiority over the entire Middle East. They weren’t wrong. On June 2nd 1979, six F-15s escorting air strikes against the PLO in Lebanon shot down five MiG-21s in a single engagement. In September, four more MiG-21s were lost to F-15s. Between 1976 and the end of the 1982 Lebanon war, Israeli F-15s shot down 58 enemy planes with zero losses.
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Israeli F-15A fighters have been progressively upgraded to the F-15C standard. Israeli F-15 Baz fighters continue to provide air superiority for Israel. Baz fighters would undoubtedly fly top cover for any Israeli air strikes against Iran.
F-15I Ra’am (“Thunder”)
Israel’s version of the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-15I Ra’am is a multi-mission aircraft capable of air superiority and strike missions. Israel announced its intention to procure the Ra’am in 1994, a result of its lack of long-range strike aircraft capable of hunting down Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War.
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Twenty five Ra’am fighters were purchased, with deliveries completed by 1998. Air to air armament includes short-range Python missiles and medium-range AMRAAM missiles. Air to ground armament includes laser guided bombs, Joint Directed Attack Munitions, and Popeye missiles. Israeli modifications include an electronic warfare suite, GPS, communications, the helmet display system and a data collection and transfer system.
In the event of an Israeli air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the 25 Ra’am fighters will be tasked with striking Iran’s farthest and most heavily defended targets.
F-16I Sufa (“Storm”)
The F-16I Sufa is a derivative of the F-16 Block 52 multirole fighter. A two seat fighter also capable of strike missions, it is probably best described as “Ra’am Lite.”
Like other F-16 Block 52 fighters, the F-16I includes conformal fuel tanks added to the fuselage to increase range. Israeli technology on the Sufa includes the heads-up display, satellite communications, and the Litening II targeting and navigation pod. Armament includes the Python 5 short-range air to air missile, laser guided bombs, and JDAM satellite guided bombs.
Israel is thought to have 99-100 Sufa fighters. Israel also has 243 older F-16 A/B/C fighters, making Israel’s F-16 force the largest outside of the U.S. Air Force. In any Israeli attack on Iran, the F-16I fighters will likely fulfill two roles: first knocking out Iran’s air defenses and then supplementing the F-15I in striking targets on the ground.
AH-64 Seraph (“Winged Serpent”)