New AWACS enhances IAF's vision
Amid growing concern that Iran's refusal to suspend its enrichment of uranium could lead to military action against its nuclear sites, the Israel Air Force on Tuesday received its first Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance plane.
Called the Eitam - white-tailed Sea Eagle -the AWACS arrived at a festive ceremony at the Lod Air Force base near Ben-Gurion Airport attended by US dignitaries and the head of the IAF, Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedy. The plane will join the Nahshon Squadron, which also operates intelligence-gathering planes called Shavit (Comet).
"The arrival of this AWACS enhances our long-range capabilities," Deputy Squadron Commander Maj. I. told The Jerusalem Post, "It extends our range of sight and our operational capabilities."
The AWACS plane that arrived on Tuesday is the first of three Gulfstream G-550 jets to be delivered to the IAF over the next three years. The plane, usually built as a top-tier business jet and purchased from the US-based General Dynamics, was built according to IAF specifications and outfitted with more than $100 million worth of radar and command-and-control systems. The equipment was developed by Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries.
The plane is capable of flying at 35,000 feet and has a range of 10,000 km. Equipped with radar systems capable of creating a 360 degree aerial picture over enemy countries during combat, the Eitam could also replace, Maj. I. said, ground-based command-and-control stations if they were destroyed by enemy action.
Israel has not had an airborne radar capability since 1994, when the IAF took a squadron of older-model AWACS, called the Hadiya, out of service. The new arrival, Maj. I. said, was a big step forward for the IAF as the plane was "relevant to all of the current threats against Israel."
Speaking at the ceremony, Shkedy said the Eitam was an essential operational tool that would be utilized to create aerial pictures deep inside enemy territory while at the same time serving as a warning system for incoming aerial threats.
Hinting at a connection between the arrival of the new aircraft and Iran's race to obtain nuclear weapons, Shkedy said, "Throughout the years of Israel's existence, defense of the skies has been the IAF's primary mission. Over the years, however, the threats have changed... and the potential for an existential threat to the state is taking form while the bells of peace are still, to our misfortune, far away."
Nissim Hadas, CEO of Elta Systems, told the Post that the radar aboard the Eitam had a range of "several hundred kilometers." The plane, he said, was capable of carrying up to 20 passengers and was compact and fuel efficient.
"The plane doesn't need to enter enemy territory," Hadas said. "It can fly far away while creating and projecting the aerial picture above the country in which the IAF wants to operate."