F-15I Ra'am: The Backbone of the Israeli Air Force

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) relies on the F-15I Ra’am, a specialized version of the American F-15 Eagle, to protect its borders and confront threats, especially in the current conflict with Hamas. This fighter has advanced features that enhance Israel’s defensive capabilities, such as long-range attack capabilities, advanced avionics, and an impressive arsenal.

The F-15I Ra’am was introduced after the 1991 Gulf War and has since proven to be highly effective in different scenarios. It has the ability to hit faraway targets inside Iran, which aligns with Israel’s defensive strategies and strengthens its ability to confront threats.

Reinforcement and Versatility of the F-15I Ra’am in Israel’s Air Strategy

F-15I Ra'am
F-15I

The F-15I Ra’am (“Thunder”) planes of the Israeli Air Force can travel longer distances than the F-35 and F-16 planes currently in service. Although the F-35I planes are the primary force in the air, the F-15I planes still play a crucial role in Israel’s security and defense, especially following the events of October 7 during the conflict with Hamas.

McDonnell Douglas created the F-15 Eagle nearly 40 years ago to replace outdated F-4 Phantom IIs in the United States Air Force. The Eagle was developed through the Enhanced Tactical Fighter program and later into the Dual Role Fighter program in the early 1980s.

Despite the competition, its advanced design made it the leading contender. Its lower production cost and versatility in adapting to future technologies cemented its place as a preeminent combat platform.

Post-Gulf War IAF Evolution: Prioritizing Strike Capability

F-15I Ra'am: The Backbone of the Israeli Air Force
Air Force Chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar is seen in an F-15I fighter at Hatzerim Air Base in an image released Nov. 3, 2023. (Amit Agronov/Israeli Air Force)

After the Gulf War conflict in 1991, Israeli defense strategists realized the urgent need to develop a long-range strike platform that could locate and neutralize cross-border threats. As a nation surrounded by hostile neighbors, Israel considers this capacity as a critical element for its survival and security.

During the Gulf War, Iraq’s use of SCUD ballistic missiles to attack Israel exposed the limitations of Israeli air defense capabilities, highlighting the need to strengthen these defenses. To address this vulnerability, the IAF inducted 25 advanced air defense platforms in the 1990s.

Israel had previously deployed the F-15 Eagle, which was first used in operations in 1978 against terrorist cells in southern Lebanon. This fighter became the IAF’s primary means of confronting Soviet-designed MiG aircraft from Syria during the Lebanon War.

IAF Brigadier General Moshe Marom-Melnik recalls the encounters with enemy forces in Lebanon, emphasizing Israel’s air supremacy: “We faced an ideal situation, shooting down virtually every attempt at air aggression. The MiG-21 and MiG-23, mainstays of the Syrian air force, were effectively neutralized. From our perspective, the contest was more like target practice.”

Israel’s F-15I Ra’am: Pillar of Long-Range Air Strategy

F-15I Ra'am: The Backbone of the Israeli Air Force
Israel’s F-15I

In 1994, Israel acquired the F-15I to fulfill a critical need. This version of the Eagle has two seats and incorporates advanced technologies in avionics, weapons, communications, and electronic warfare. It stands out from the F-15E Strike Eagle due to its functional duality that allows it to execute air superiority missions and long-range attacks with equal effectiveness.

The Ra’am, as it is called, is equipped with the Hughes APG-70 synthetic aperture radar, Elbit helmet targeting system, and Kaiser holographic front sight. This ensures accurate target identification even under adverse weather conditions. Armed with a 20mm M61MA1 Vulcan cannon and capable of carrying up to 18,000 pounds of weapons and fuel, the F-15I is a formidable platform in the Israeli arsenal.

The Ra’am’s design, inherited from the Strike Eagle, features a configuration of two seats in tandem and engines arranged in parallel. It has vertical stabilizing planes and sloped leading-edge wings and is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW turbofan engines. It can reach speeds exceeding Mach 2.0, as described by Military Factory.

The F-15I has been a frequent player in military operations on Israel’s borders and beyond, including deployments to Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza. Its ability to penetrate deep into Iranian territory aligns with Israel’s Begin Doctrine, which supports the need to prevent Tehran from developing weapons of mass destruction. This consolidates the role of Ra’am as a crucial element in Israel’s strategy of national defense.