has signed a deal with the United States to buy 12 Lockheed Martin CH-53K helicopters and two Boeing KC-46 tankers, the Israeli Defence Ministry said on Friday (31 December), estimating the total price at around US$2 billion. The deal is part of an upgrade of Israel’s air force capabilities and includes an option to buy six additional helicopters, a ministry statement said.

The KC-46 is popular with most US allies.

It said the first helicopters were due to arrive in Israel in 2026. Brigadier-General Shimon Tsentsiper, chief of materiel for the air force, told Israel’s Army Radio on Thursday that the refuelling planes on order would not be delivered before 2025. He said Israel was trying to bring forward the delivery of the KC-46s, and eventually wanted a total of four of them. Israeli media have speculated that the refuelling planes could be crucial for carrying out a long-threatened air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Tsentsiper said the air force’s current refuelling capacities were sufficient for its missions.

The US State Department approved the sale of up to eight KC-46 tanker aircraft and related equipment to Israel last March, marking the first time that Washington has allowed Tel Aviv to buy new tankers. With a range of 11,830 kilometres and the capacity to carry 207,000 pounds of fuel, the KC-46 is claimed to enable refuelling over 64 different types of aircraft and allow dozens of jets to remain airborne for up to 12 hours. The United States signed an agreement in September 2016 to give Israel $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade, the largest such aid package in US history.

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