The Israeli Defense Ministry confirmed that the country has inked a deal with the United States which will allow Israel to purchase twelve Lockheed Martin CH-53K helicopters as well as tow Boeing KC-46 refueling planes. Israel is anticipating paying approximately $3.1 billion for the military equipment. The Israeli Defense Ministry states that the cost of the helicopters is estimated to be $2 billion, while the refueling planes total approximately $1.1 billion.
Israel and the United States signed the deal on Thursday, and the agreement is part of plans to upgrade the capabilities of Israel’s air force. The deal offers an option to buy six additional helicopters at a later date, according to a statement from the ministry. The Lockheed Martin helicopters are intended to take the place of the current Israeli copters nicknamed “Yasurs.” The Yasur aircraft is a Sikorsky CH-53 heavy lift aircraft which the Israeli air force has utilized since the 1960s.
The helicopters are expected to arrive in Israel some time in 2026. The refueling planes aren’t expected to arrive in Israel before 2025, according to the chief of material for the Israeli air force, Brigadier General Shimon Tsentsiper. Although the current deal is for two refueling plans, Tsentsiper said that Israel is hoping to procure two more in the near future.
While Tsentsiper went on the record as saying that the country’s current refueling planes are sufficient for their usual missions, speculation abounds that the reason Israel wants the refueling planes is so they can carry out air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The Ministry stated that the Ministry and the Israeli military have been in talks to procure this type of equipment for the last eighteen months. Tsentsiper also noted that the procurements for this equipment was “part of a wider program to strengthen the capabilities of the Israeli Defense Forces and preparedness to face current and developing threats.”
Chiefly, it is the Israeli media who are questioning whether these refueling planes might be part of a plan to carry out future strikes on Iran’s nuclear testing sites. Iran has conducted military drills in the Persian Gulf during December 2021, and Israel, who is opposed to the Iran nuclear deal that was drafted in 2015, has vowed military retaliation if peace talks and diplomacy do not garner the desired results.
The Biden Administration had given the green light to the deal in May 2021; the Israeli government approved the purchase in November. Ironically, several progressive Democrats have asked President Biden to take a tougher stance on the Israeli government. Israel is one of just a few countries that typically see a much faster processing time when it comes to deals with the United States government.