July 12, 2023 | Flash Brief

Eyeing Iran, U.S. and Israeli Air Forces Hone Long-Range Strike Skills

July 12, 2023 | Flash Brief

Eyeing Iran, U.S. and Israeli Air Forces Hone Long-Range Strike Skills

Latest Developments

U.S. Central Command and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced on July 10 that they are conducting a combined military exercise in Israel this week as part of the Juniper Oak exercise series. The latest exercise, dubbed Juniper Oak 23.3, will focus on long-range strikes, air refueling, air superiority, and cyber defense, according to the IDF.

The training, which is expected to continue until July 14, seeks to improve the readiness of both forces and strengthen their ability to operate together. American F-16 fighter aircraft as well as the KC-10 Extender and KC-46 Pegasus tanker aircraft — along with Israeli planes — are participating. The military training this week follows the Juniper Oak 23.2 exercise in January, which was the largest U.S.-Israeli military exercise in history and included more than 140 aircraft, 6,400 American troops, and 1,500 Israeli troops.

Expert Analysis

“This week, American and Israeli air forces are rehearsing some of the exact capabilities necessary to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program. That’s important preparation and a helpful message, but it is time to finally refuel Israeli fighters with American KC-46s and expand the Juniper Oak military exercise series to Arab partners. American KC-46s and Israeli fighter aircraft flying together in formation is a nice photo op, but actually conducting refueling would send a stronger message.” Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“Juniper Oak 23.3 sends a positive message that the United States is committed to Israel’s security and that Washington has the means to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” — Ryan Brobst, FDD Senior Research Analyst

Aerial Refueling for Long-Range Missions

A U.S. KC-46 air refueling tanker is participating in this week’s exercise, providing Israelis opportunities to familiarize themselves with it in anticipation of Israel receiving its own KC-46 tankers in the next few years. U.S. and Israeli fighter aircraft will fly in formation with the American KC-46, but it remains to be seen whether the tankers will actually refuel the Israeli fighters.

Considering the distance between Israel and Iran and the nature of some of the targets in Iran, air refueling is necessary for the Israeli Air Force to conduct successful long-distance strike missions with its F-15, F-16, and F-35 fighters against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Practicing air refueling now with American KC-46s would help reduce the time between the arrival of Israel’s own KC-46s and the ability to employ them in support of combat operations. The United States and Israel are procuring the modern KC-46 tanker to augment and replace older tankers such as the American KC-10 and KC-135 and Israel’s aging fleet of Boeing 707 tankers.

Congressional Interest

On February 16, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced a bill to ensure Israel has mission-ready KC-46s of its own as soon as possible. The Senate Armed Services Committee included a version of his legislation in Section 1212 of its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024. A bipartisan version of the KC-46 legislation led by Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX) is also progressing through the House of Representatives for inclusion in the defense bill.

Junipers, Oaks, and Killer Tomatoes,” Podcast (with Transcript) Featuring Bradley Bowman and CENTCOM Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. Gregory Guillot

Eyeing Iran’s Nuclear Program, U.S. and Israeli Militaries Train Together in Nevada,” FDD Flash Brief

With an Eye on Adversaries, the U.S. and Israel Conduct Major Military Exercise,” by Bradley Bowman and Ryan Brobst


Arab Politics Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Israel Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy