The Map Office Still Calling: Israeli capabilities for striking Iran

Back in 2009 I put up a post with the title Joe Biden? The Map Office is Calling! after Joe had apparently given a green light to Israel to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. In it I pointed to a study by Toukan and Cordesman Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities . On my reading the authors, without explicitly saying as much, concluded that such a unilateral strike was impossible simply on a logistical basis, while Israel had the offensive punch to deliver such a strike it just didn’t have the in-air fuel supply capacity to get the planes safelyback out of Iranian airspace and returned to their bases. You can read the study for yourself and my take on it but the IIRC longish comment thread it sparked didn’t survive the transition to Word Press from Blogger.

Be that as it may the talk of Israel finally running out of patience with the U.S. and taking out Iran’s nuclear capabiity on its own still persists today. Leading me to wonder if Israel had in the intervening years actually beefed up its in-air refueling capability in a way that would allow it to successfully carry out this strike today. And through the miracle of Google I found what is essentially an September 2012 update by Toukan and Cordesman Analyzing the Impact of Preventive Strikes Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities Like the first piece this latest study contains an amazing wealth of detail on both the Israeli and Iranian Order of Battle for both a conventional aerial attack or one launched by ballistic missiles as well as detailed information on the nuclear programs both military and civilian for both parties. so it is well worth reading for that alone.

But for my purposes it would seem that the conclusion still stands for the most part, Israel still cannot launch a successful aerial assault with an acceptable recovery rate. The relevant analysis starts on page 51 with the key extract on page 71 as follows:

Total Fuel in an F-15E for the Hi-Lo-Lo-Hi strike mission is 26,300 lbs, whereas that for an F-16I is about 14,755 lbs. The total maximum strike package was around 80 aircraft, all the 25 F-15I in the Israeli Airforce Inventory and 55 F-16I/C. The F-15E would then need 5 to 6 KC-130s to refuel from, and the F-16Is would require 6 to 7 KC-130.
 Israel presently has 5 KC-130H and 4 B-700 (Source IISS). So all the Israeli Tankers will have to be airborne to service the F-15E and F-16I Strike Force during the outbound leg and inbound legs of the mission. Could be difficult to find a location along the route such that the tankers could avoid detection and possible interception.
 These estimates were done assuming a 100% aircraft and weapons operational reliability and the strike force not encountering any Iranian Air and Ground Defense. So if we give the overall reliability to be 90% then we should add around 9 to 10 more aircraft, bringing the total strike force to 90.
 So in essence over 20% of the high end combat aircraft of Israeli Airforce and 100% of the Tankers will have to be allocated for this mission.

And on close reading that “100% of the Tankers” has been shaded a bit. Because the authors calculate that the Israelis would need between 11-13 KC-130s to refuel from (“5 to 6” plus “6 to 7”) while their total inventory of KC-130s and equivalents is 9. And this before adding the 9 to 10 more aircraft to reduce the needed reliability from 100% (no malfunctions/losses) to 90%. And all this assuming that Israel could “find a location along the route” to stage those KC-130s during the strike phase. Meaning either Turkish, Iraqi or Saudi air space.

And all this is for a single strike. But don’t take my word for it, because there is data and to spare here for the nerdiest of us. All I can say is that Israel is running a huge bluff here. There is exactly no way they can launch a successful attack on Iran, and still less a sustained multi-mission series of attacks without active U.S. assistance starting but not ending with re-fueling assistance.

Well anyway it is a change of pace. Talk about this or whatever.