|Written by Sabc|
The F-15I Raam is without question the meanest strike fighter in the arsenal of the Israeli Defense Forces / Air Force ( IDF/ AF). A freshly developed and battle-tested F-15E Strike Eagle was almost immediately wanted by Israeli air force officials, however serious diplomatic moves had to be made first to get the US authorize the sale of their highly prized aircraft. Israel (as many times in the past) utilized their special diplomatic relationship with the US to be able to get an aircraft into their inventory which was normally not on sale by the US to foreign countries.
Gulf War Aftermath
During the 1991 Gulf War (otherwise known as ODS) Saddam Hussein tried to drag Israel into the conflict by launching modified SCUD missiles towards Israel. He planned on the israelis reacting with a massive force of immediate retaliation which (if it ever had happened) would have most probably forced the arab members of the Coalition to withdraw their support, which was paramount for the US and its allies. Saddam Hussein almost managed to get over with his plan: one time an Israeli strike force was briefed with their "live" targets and the aircrew were strapping themselves into their jets when the cancellation order finally arrived. Diplomacy finally made it through and kept Israel away from the conflict, however Israel asked a high payment in return for the favor of restraining themselves - US made Patriot missile batteries were deployed all over Israel and the Coalition continued a round-the-clock patrol over Western Iraq in search of SCUD missile launchers.
In fact, Israel benefited quite well from the Gulf War. After the war IDF/ AF received additional weapons and systems upgrades, plus the US delivered an additional 25 F-15A/B model airframes (19 single seat, and 6 two-seat versions) to Israel from October 1991.
By modifying the F-15A/B models, Israel was able to quickly field a long range strike aircraft in response to the threat posed by enemies placed farther away after the 1982 Lebanon War. However the existing F-15 force was not able to cope with the ever increasing ballistic missile threat in the Middle-East area. In 1993 Israel officially issued requirements for purchasing long-range multi-role combat aircraft in sufficient numbers.
The Lockheed Martin (formerly General Dynamics) F-16C/D was the quickest and most obvious answer, since IDF/ AF had long standing operating experiences with the jet. McDonnell Douglas also entered into the competition with the F/A-18C/D models. However after an official evaluation in 1993, it turned out that none of these aircraft could fulfill the requirements due to their relatively short range.
Strike Eagle Wanted
IDF/ AF officials made no secret that their jet of choice would be the F-15E Strike Eagle, which at that time was a fresh new aircraft, just battle-proven in the Gulf War. However it was prohibited by the US to sell it for foreign countries at that time.
Israel however was adamant and (as many times in the past) got what they wanted. In the wake of the Oslo Accords, signed by Israel and the PLO in August 1993, in an effort to end the conflict between the two sides, US President Bill Clinton promised Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that he would ensure that the IDF maintained a qualitative edge over the armed forces of its neighbors. And when the US Congress finally authorized the sale of the F-15S (a significantly degraded version of the F-15E Strike Eagle) to Saudi-Arabia, nothing could be said against selling the F-15E to Israel. But according to president Clinton's promise, the Israeli version of the jet was not downgraded at all - it was up-to-date top-notch hot military stuff, the best money could buy at that time.
And money was needed big time to purchase enough airframes which satisfied Israel's needs. Top quality technology came with a top price and although the F-15E easily met all the requirements formerly made by Israel, the would-be buyers soon found themselves struggling to realize the money necessary to equip two squadrons worth of Strike Eagles.
A budget of 1,8 billion USD was allocated for the purchase and this sum would have bought 55 F-16C/D's or 45 F/A-18C/D's. However it would have been enough for only 28 Strike Eagles, less than two squadrons worth. Israel tended to change their mind and suggested to buy only 10 F-15E's and a full squadron of either Vipers or Hornets, hoping that this initial purchase of Strike Eagles leaves the door open for follow-on purchases in the future.
Finally it was the US government which solved the problem by offering 50 surplus F-16A/B's to the IDF/ AF to ensure that the number of fourth generation fighters in service with the IDF/ AF would not have to be reduced in order to fund the purchase of a squadron of F-15I's - for it was how the new jet was officially designated. Its nickname became Raam (pronounced as ra-am, which means 'Thunder' in Hebrew - an absolutely perfect choice for a nickname).
Feeling to lose a huge contract, Lockheed Martin appeared on the scene with a surprising offer. Realizing that their "existing-on-the-drawing-board-only" F-16ES (Enhanced Strategic - an F-16 with conformal fuel tanks) jet would surely not win serious Israeli hearts, they offered two squadrons worth of F-16C/D's plus a squadron worth of F-111 Aardvarks - the very jet the F-15E Strike Eagle replaced in the US arsenal. The total sum of the contract would have been considerably less than 1,8 billion.
Israel carefully examined the offer, IDF/ AF commander Hertzel Bodinger even visited RAF Lakenheath, where USAF's 48th FW was in the process of transitioning from F-111 to F-15E. Finally they concluded that although the F-111 is a superb striker, it lacks the necessary aerial self-defense capabilities and it's extremely maintenance-expensive, hence not worth to purchase.
Hammers and Thunder
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin approved the project of purchasing 21 F-15I aircraft for a price of 2 billion USD on 24th January 1994 and a letter of acceptance covering the deal was signed on 12th May 1994. The contract ("Peace Fox V") also included an option for purchasing 4 more airframes, which option finally entered into effect on 22nd December 1995 when 4 more airframes were ordered for an additional price of 253 million USD.
The purchase price also covered a full-blown simulator facility (constructed by Lockheed Martin), which got activated only in 2003 at Hatzor airbase.
The first F-15I made its maiden flight on 12 September 1997 and an official rollout ceremony was held at Boeing's St. Louis facility on 6th November 1997. Israel's minister of defense Yitzhak Mordenchai formally accepted the F-15I on behalf of the people of Israel by placing the David Star on the aircraft's fuselage. His words were: 'I wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the government of the United States, to the Boeing Company, to all of the American and Israeli employees who labored to build this aircraft, and of course, to the air crews who will fly it. The F-15I will provide a significant contribution to Israel's air deterrence power. I pray this aircraft will bestow upon us the wings of peace and not the ghosts of war.'
The first two airframes were ferried over to Israel on 19th January 1998 and all deliveries continued at a rate of two airframes arriving per month. The last F-15I airframe to enter Israeli service was the first to be built, since it was used as a specially equipped testbed for the IDF/ AF Flight Test Center. F-15I airframes produced by Boeing were 94-0286/0306. The 4 more airframes ordered under the contract option mentioned above ("Peace Fox VI") were 94-0307/0310.
The IDF/ AF squadron to make the transition to the Raam was the 69th Hammers - a squadron with long standing and glorious legacy within Israel. They were founded in 1948 and have flown with Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses from Ramat airbase during the 1948-49 Indepedence War and the 1956 Sinai campaign and later with F-4 Phantoms from 1969. The Hammers squadron relocated to Hatzor (Hetzerim) airbase in Southwest Israel when they made the transition to the Raam and they were declared operational on 1st January 1999, one year after the first F-15I landed on Israeli runway.
10 days after their activation the Hammers flew their first "live" sortie over Southern Lebanon. The first mission which really proved their worth was flown on 24th June 1999 when the CO of the Hammers squadron destroyed bridges over the Litani and Awali rivers during a single night mission. This sortie truly demonstrated the capabilities of the Raam - it was able to carry four 2,000 lb LGB's (two used for each bridge) over a long range and was able to destroy the target with pinpoint accuracy despite a cloudy sky at night.
Raam aircrew feel that their jet has been created without any compromises. While other multi-role jets have to trade performance in a certain mission to achieve aceptable capability in another, the Raam does everything at its best. The only tradeoff they have to suffer is the extreme amount of work, since they have to be proficient in a wide variety of missions, they can be called to perform at any time.
You can discuss this article in the Strike Eagle Forum with the latest posts appearing here below as well. Clicking on the 'Discuss' button takes you to the SEF, while clicking on the 'Quick Post' text enables you to make a post here right away.
Article discussions are available for registered users only!
|Last Updated on Monday, 30 May 2011|
You need to login or register to post comments.
Jan 17 2010 13:12:50
Guys, F-15I Raam images (hi-res, if possible) are wanted! If any one of you can send such images to me (together with photographer name and date of the photo being taken), I'd be thankful.