Although the Israeli Air Force is now equipped with F-35s, they still have faith in their F-15I Ra am fleet.
The F-15Is have fought in many battles and won many victories. Israel received its first F-15 in 1976, and for more than 40 years, the F-15s have operated continuously in the Israeli Air Force, and have never been defeated.
In 1998, the Israeli Air Force put into service a new version of the F-15, a version designed for multi-mission, the F-15I Ra’am (Thunder). The F-15I serves as the Israeli Air Force’s tactical ground strike aircraft, complementing the F-16 fighter jets, to ensure Israel’s air superiority now and in the near future.
Early versions of the F-15 Eagle were just air superiority fighters, designed with a single seat, bubble glass cockpit for excellent visibility. It was equipped with powerful APG-63 radar. Its armament included four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-guided missiles, in addition to an M61 Gatling gun for close combat.
The F-15 is large and flexible enough that engineers can upgrade it to a multi-role combat platform. In addition to air combat missions, the F-15 can carry ground attack weapons. This led to the development of the F-15E Strike Eagle, which entered service with the US Air Force in 1989 and was used in the 1991 Gulf War.
The performance of the Strike Eagle during the Gulf War attracted strong Israeli interest. In the context of it’s enemies, Israel needed powerful long-range strike aircraft like the F-15E, to be able to deal with hostile nations like Iraq or Iran. This will be an essential weapon to prevent and destroy threats early.
Thanks to the modified airframe, the F-15I can carry up to 8.1 tons of fuel and weapons. According to the Israeli Air Force, the payload of the F-15I is 36 Rockeye cluster bombs or 6 Maverick air-to-ground missiles. Currently, the F-15I’s air-to-ground weapons have been expanded, including Paveway laser-guided bombs, Joint Direct Attack (JDAM) satellite-guided bombs, BLU-109 hardened penetration bombs, SPICE precision-guided bombs and AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missiles.
The first F-15I entered the Israeli Air Force in 1997, and the order was completed in 1999. The F-15I has served continuously in the Israeli Air Force for more than twenty years, not only in exercises but in wars such as the 2006 Lebanon War, the war in the Gaza Strip, the air strikes on Syrian territory.
In 2016, Israel announced a program to upgrade the F-15I, including a new generation of active electronically scanned array radar, updated avionics to be compatible with the F- 35 just arrived. It is very likely that Israel will continue to buy some new F-15Is. If that becomes a reality, these new planes will operate until 2070. And so, Israel will be the country that continuously exploits the F-15 within a century; That’s really a record for an aircraft from the early 1970s.