IAF to develop UAVs as unmanned refueling plane

Published 4 December 2006

UAVs are being used for more and more missions; the Israeli Air Force has a new mission for them as unmanned refueling planes

Anxiety is growing in Israel over Iran’s relentless march toward acquiring nuclear weapons. As the anxiety grows, so do rumors about what Israel might do to stop Iran from getting the bomb. It is in this context that we read a recent Defense News report that the Israel Air Force (IAF) is considering the development of UAVs to serve as unmanned refueling tankers which can carry large amounts of fuel and autonomously deliver it. The magazine quoted the IAF head of procurement who made the comments at conference held by the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzilya, Israel.

IAF has not yet made a formal application for a budget for the development of UAVs, but military and defense industry sources say it is likely to do so during 2007. If IAF files a budget request, its multi-year budget could include an initial development budget for new aircraft starting from 2008.

The sources said that the UAV development project would almost certainly be led by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), Israel’s only provider of aerial refueling capabilities, and a key manufacturer of UAV systems. Note that during the past several years, an IAI unit has been converting Boeing 707, C-130, and Ilyushin aircraft into air tankers and equipped dozens of fighter aircraft and helicopters with aerial refueling capability. Defense News says that IAI has already begun work on a number of scenarios in which UAVs would refuel one another. “We have been preparing for such a requirement,” said a senior IAI manager, “Aerial refueling will increase the number of operations that be produced from each UAV.”

The IAF already has a new UAV called Eitan, but specs and performance details are still classified. Some of the details, though, may be gleaned from an April 2004 IAI magazine, in which the Eytan was described as four times larger than the previous IAI-manufactured UAV, Shoval. If so, it could serve as the future aerial refueling tanker, as Eitan should weigh four tons and can carry a payload of nearly two tons of fuel, which is not an insubstantial quantity.

-read more in Ran Dagoni’s Globes report