December 1, 2022 | Flash Brief

Eyeing Iran, the U.S. and Israel Conduct Combined Air Exercise

December 1, 2022 | Flash Brief

Eyeing Iran, the U.S. and Israel Conduct Combined Air Exercise

Latest Developments 

The United States Air Force and the Israeli Air Force began a combined air exercise in Israel on Tuesday that includes fighter aircraft from both countries and a U.S. air refueling tanker. The exercise helps build the readiness of both air forces and their ability to operate together while honing some of the exact capabilities Israel would need to conduct a successful kinetic strike against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program. While a Pentagon spokesperson portrayed the exercise as routine, statements from the Israeli prime minister and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) left little doubt about their intended audience in Tehran.

Expert Analysis

“Demonstrating the ability to conduct successful strikes against the Iranian nuclear weapons program sends a valuable deterrent message to Tehran. Americans and Israelis should significantly expand combined military exercises focused on ensuring the leading state sponsor of terrorism never acquires the world’s most dangerous weapon.” Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

Fighters and Air Refueling

The exercise has included four American F-15 fighters, four Israeli F-35i “Adir” aircraft, several Israeli F-16i aircraft, and at least one American KC-135 refueling tanker, according to an IDF release on Wednesday. The F-35i and F-15 aircraft flew through Israeli airspace together, while the KC-135 refueled F-16i fighters in flight. The IDF Intelligence Directorate simulated a campaign against “distant countries” as part of the exercise, testing intelligence gathering, target determination, and intelligence distribution capabilities.

Another Usual Exercise at An Unusual Time

“They are exercising fighter escort and aerial refueling,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder stated on Tuesday. “It’s also not something that’s unusual,” he added. The Department of Defense and the IDF have conducted many similar exercises in the past, but Iran’s continued progress toward a nuclear weapons capability makes this exercise more salient.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid monitored a portion of the exercise on Wednesday in an underground control center. “The strategic cooperation with the United States and other countries strengthens the capabilities of the IDF against the challenges in the Middle East, led by Iran,” Lapid said at the end of the visit.

Building Israel’s Long-Range Strike Capabilities

Given the distances from Israel to Iran, Israeli aircraft attacking Iran’s nuclear program and attempting to return to their bases would require air refueling, assuming landing en route for refueling outside of Iran is not feasible. Israel relies on decades-old 707 refuelers that are increasingly expensive and difficult to maintain. That is why Israel plans to procure the KC-46 air refueling tanker from the United States. The first KC-46, however, is unlikely to arrive in Israel before 2025. The Pentagon could help Israel prepare for the arrival of its KC-46s and expedite their availability for combat by taking several steps now, including by sending an American KC-46 to future exercises, like the one occurring this week.

Related Analysis

Israel has a KC-46 problem. Here’s the solution,” By Bradley Bowman and Enia Krivine

Pentagon Announces Contract for Israeli KC-46s but Has More Work To Do,” By Bradley Bowman and Ryan Brobst

In Iniochos Exercise, Israel Rehearses Iran Strikes as Saudis Observe,” By Bradley Bowman, Ryan Brobst, and Seth J. Frantzman


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran Nuclear Israel Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy