The Israeli air force’s in-flight refuelling capability has been built with long range combat missions in mind – you need an accompanying fuel station in the skies.
However, the current “Protective Edge” operation in Gaza proves there are exceptions
In addition to ground manoeuvres in the Gaza Strip, the IAF’s airstrikes continue. Although the fighting is taking place close to Israeli territory, the “Desert Giants” squadron – which is responsible for refuelling fighter jets – has also been taking an active role in Protective Edge.
“Gaza is close by and you don’t need to refuel a fighter jet. Nonetheless, there are specific missions with the combat squadrons that require the planes to remain in the air for a long time without resting,” Maj Nir, deputy commander of the Nevatim-based squadron, told the IAF website.
Refuelling of the F-15s and F-16s is carried out using the squadron’s Boeing 707 tankers. “We go up in the air several times a day, and within 15min a large portion of the fuel has been transferred,” Nir says. “There is a difference between the routine refuelling and refuelling when there is fighting. When fighter jets come to refuel this time, they come loaded with operational ordnance and they are heavier.
“On the one hand this requires us and them to be more focused when refuelling, and on the other hand we want to release them as soon as possible so that they can complete their mission on time.”
The IAF’s combat aircraft have performed hundreds of missions over Gaza, mainly to suppress the launching of rockets into Israel. These missions require the aircraft to stay over the area longer than a mission to hit a pre-designated target.
In this unique situation targets are being added while the original mission is being performed, and requires aerial refuelling.