Israel Buys Brazilian 707 to Cannibalize for Aging Tanker Aircraft Fleet

Air force refueling planes have stellar record, but are nearing retirement age

An Israeli KC-135 Stratotanker Boeing 707 and F-15 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in Tel Aviv, May 2, 2017.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

The Israel Air Force tanker aircraft are nearing the age of 60, so the Israeli army bought a Boeing 707 from the Brazilian air force to use for parts.

The air force is proud of its fleet of several tanker aircraft. They broke the record for the longest Israeli military flight when they covered a distance of 10,000 consecutive kilometers. However, these planes, which are required for long-range missions in various countries like Iran, are getting on. The youngest one is the Re’em (Boeing 707) at 35 years, while the oldest one was manufactured in 1958.

Old planes mean mishaps, some air force officials say, but the planes’ ages also mean a lack of replacement parts. So Israel recently decided to buy the Brazilian 707, which has been out of service for 10 years. The 707 is expected to be cannibalized for parts.

The plane was acquired as part of a no-bid contract worth $410,000. The Defense Ministry reportedly approved the acquisition three months ago. The ministry commented, “The acquisition deal from a local Brazilian company included two components – buying the Boeing 707 for the air force to use its parts, and another deal to buy plane parts.” The plane itself cost $300,000.

Senior air force officials in the past have backed acquiring new tanker aircraft as part of the $38 billion, 10-year U.S. aid package signed last September. Still, new tanker aircraft are deemed particularly expensive, and IDF officials prefer to invest in other aircraft like F-15s or in ground vehicles like an APC on wheels that Israel recently developed, called Eitan. Still, the air force has begun initial talks to evaluate the option of dedicating some of the military aid to buying tanker aircraft.

The fleet mainly serves the mission of refueling fighter jets to enable them to reach further targets and spend more time in the air. The air force’s maintenance policy stipulates that each plane undergo a large number of checks based on its age. Most of the tanker aircraft are former civilian aircraft bought from global companies and then adapted for military uses like aerial refueling.