The requirement was for around 50 4th-generation fighters to see the Israeli Air Force (IAF) through to the 1990s — perhaps beyond. The two main contenders to such a purchase would be the Grumman F-14A Tomcat and the McDonnell Douglas F-15A/B Eagle.
In the 1970s, the US was always trying to ‘tread carefully’ in the Middle East. Strange as it may seem today, back then they were trying to ensure and maintain the balance of power in the region. Following the Yom Kippur War ceasefire in October 1973, the UN-backed agreement between Israel and Egypt in January 1974 and then the subsequent Israeli withdrawals and second disengagement agreement signed in September 1975, the portents were good that Israel would be looked upon favourably by the US government on any potential 4th-generation fighter purchase.
The requirement was for around 50 4th-generation fighters to see the Israeli Air Force (IAF) through to the 1990s — perhaps beyond. In June 1974, the country’s minister for defence — Shimon Peres — requested that a small cadre of experienced IAF pilots be allowed to test and evaluate the two main contenders to such a purchase. As told by Bertie Simmonds in his book F-15 Eagle, those candidates would be the Grumman F-14A Tomcat and the McDonnell Douglas F-15A/B Eagle.
By this time the F-14A had already been evaluated and ordered by the Iranian government — the Shah (a pilot himself) was impressed by the aircraft’s performance and at the time the order we wasn’t such an issue – until the I979 revolution. The differences between the F-14 and F-15 included that the Tomcat was designed around the AIM-54 Phoenix, a 100-mile missile that helped to give the F-14A the reach to defend the fleet against long-range Soviet bombers and cruise missiles. In the right hands it could also dogfight. On the other hand, the F-15 was designed for air superiority over the battlefield — something that appealed to the Israelis when you consider the battles they had fought since independence in 1948, but both would be evaluated thoroughly.
IAF commander Benny Peled had flown one of the first TF-15s in 1974, but this was a preproduction jet, so many of the systems to make it combat-ready were not actually fitted to the aircraft. Meanwhile, David Ivry (a former P-51 Mustang and Dassault Ouragan pilot for the IAF) had also flown a Tomcat while visiting Naval Air Station Miramar. He is reported to have been impressed with the F-14, if a little disappointed at the fact that the troublesome TF-30 turbofans had to be treated with care during air combat manoeuvres with a US Navy A-4 Skyhawk.
A team was eventually put together to evaluate both machines independently as the US had not allowed the Israelis to actually pitch Tomcat against Eagle. The evaluation team would be led by Amnon Arad, a former Mirage pilot and F-4E pilot and squadron leader. He would be joined by Assaf Ben-Nun (former fighter pilot and test pilot for the Kfir project), Omri Afek (an F-4E pilot), Israel Baharav (a former Mirage pilot and squadron commander during the recent Yom Kippur War) and navigator Aharon Katz. The rest of the team included ground crew and employees from Israeli Aircraft Industries.
The evaluations would have made for interesting reading at the time — coming from the most experienced and battle-hardened jet fighter pilots then seen: these pilots had around 24 kills between them. They wanted to see how these teen-series jets dealt with everything from low and slow targets to fast targets replicating the irritating MiG-25Rs that were making nuisance flights over Israel.
Around 10 flights were made in the two-seat F-15 — a full-scale development aircraft with the new systems on board — as well as extensive use of the McDD F-15 simulator. Sorties were made against both A-4 and F-4 aircraft and the Israelis came away impressed with the F-15 especially. They found that the F-15 could easily best both aircraft, that the weapons systems were ‘user-friendly’, that the agility of the Eagle was astounding and that the power allowed them to ‘sustain g’ like nothing else they’d flown before. The cockpit also gave unrivalled visibility for dogfighting.
In comparison with the two-seat F-14 which the team flew at Miramar, they were disappointed in the dogfighting ability of the Tomcat – something the IAF excelled at. Often it was found that an air combat manoeuvring mission against the humble A-4 Skyhawk could end up in a stalemate. It soon became clear that the F-15 Eagle was the best choice for the IAF and – better still – the aircraft was some millions of dollars cheaper per unit than the Tomcat.
Politically though, issues over an F-15 sale would not he cleared until that second disengagement agreement of September 1975, but then, within a month, the US agreed to supply the Eagle in numbers. Under the terms of the agreement, entitled ‘Peace Fox l’, Israel began receiving its new fighter in the form of four full-scale development aircraft in December 1976, followed up by the delivery of two F-15Bs and 19 F-15As under the terms of Peace Fox II. This would cost Israel around tiled $625 million and was superseded by Peace Fox III where 18 F-15Cs and eight F-15Ds were ordered. In addition — during the early 1990s — following Israel staying its hand during Desert Storm when it was attacked by Iraqi Scud missiles, the IAF was sent 10 early F-15A and Bs which were refurbished as a thank you’ by the US government.
F-15 Eagle is published by Mortons Books and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Israeli Air Force and U.S. Navy