F-15I Ra'am (Thunder)
Boeing's (formerly McDonnell Douglas) F-15E Strike Eagle entered service with the IDF/Heyl Ha'Avir (Israeli Air Force) in January of 1998 and was designated the F-15I Ra'am (Thunder). The F-15E Strike Eagle is the ground attack variant of the F-15 air superiority fighter, capable of attacking targets day or night, and in all weather conditions. The F-15I serves alongside the F-15C, which has seen considerable combat since introduction into the Heyl Ha'Avir in 1976.
Israel bought F-15A, B, and D aircraft from USAF inventories and obtained an air-to-ground version called the F-15I. The Government of Israel and the U.S. Air Force signed a letter of offer and acceptance in 1994, and amended it in February 1996, for the purchase of 25 F-15I aircraft, support items, and associated services. Israel finalized its decision to purchase 25 F-15Is in November 1995. The US Air Force contracted with McDonnell Douglas Corporation, Aerospace Division (MDA) for the aircraft. The US Air Force was scheduled to deliver the first aircraft to Israel in January 1998. The Government of Israel purchased the F-15I aircraft engines under a direct commercial contract with United Technologies Corporation, Pratt and Whitney Company.
The two seat F-15I, known as the Thunder in Israel, incorporates new and unique weapons, avionics, electronic warfare, and communications capabilities that make it one of the most advanced F-15s. The F-15I, like the US Air Force's F-15E Strike Eagle, is a dual-role fighter that combines long-range interdiction with the Eagle's air superiority capabilities. All aircraft are to be configured with either the F100-PW-229 or F110-GE-129 engines by direct commercial sale; Night Vision Goggle compatible cockpits; an Elbit display and sight helmet (DASH) system; conformal fuel tanks; and the capability to employ the AIM-120, AIM-7, AIM-9, and a wide variety of air-to-surface munitions.
F-15 production, which began in 1972, was extended into 1999 by orders F-151 aircraft for Israel. Israel selected the F-15I in January, 1994 after evaluating a variety of aircraft to meet its defense needs. The government of Israel initially ordered 25 F-15I Thunders, powered by two Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 low bypass turbofan engine. This foreign military sale was valued at $1.76 billion dollars. The Israeli Air Force received the first two of 25 F-15I aircraft in January 1998. On 22 September 1998 the US Department of Defense announced the sale to the Government of Israel of 30 F-15I aircraft; 30 AN/APG-70 or AN/APG-63(V)1 radar; and 30 each LANTIRN navigation and targeting pods. Associated support equipment, software development/integration, spares and repair parts, flight test instrumentation, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, US Government and contractor technical and logistics personnel services, and other related requirements to ensure full program supportability will also be provided. The estimated cost was $2.5 billion.
Though externally the Ra'am looks similar to its USAF counterpart, there are some differences, mainly in the electronic countermeasures gear and the exhaust nozzles. The Ra'am has a counterbalance on the port vertical stabilizer instead of the AN/ALQ-128 EWWS (Electronic Warfare Warning System) antenna found on USAF Strike Eagles. The Ra'am uses two AN/ALQ-135B band 3 antennas, one mounted vertically (starboard side) and one horizontally (port side). These are located on the end of the tail booms. They are distinguished by their chiseled ends, unlike the original AN/ALQ-135 antenna, which is round and located on the port tail boom of USAF Eagles. The Ra'am utilizes extra chaff/flare dispensers mounted in the bottom side of the tail booms. Unlike USAF Eagles, the Ra'am still use engine actuator covers (turkey feathers) on their afterburner cans. The U.S. Air Force removed them because of cost and nozzle maintenance, though curiously, USAF F-16s still have their actuator covers installed. Israeli Strike Eagles and some USAF Eagles based in Europe use CFT air scoops. These scoops provide extra cooling to the engines.
The 25 F-15Is operational since 1999 [and the 100 F-16Is] were procured first and foremost to deal with the Iranian threat. In August 2003 the Israeli Air Force demonstrated the strategic capability to strike far-off targets such as Iran [which is 1,300 kilometers away], by flying three F-15 jets to Poland 1,600 nautical miles away. After they celebrated that country's air force's 85th birthday, on their return trip, the IAF warplanes staged a fly-past over the Auschwitz death camp.
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