Configuration And Payload Of The Aircraft Employed By Israel In The Fight Against Hamas

Israel Hamas
An F-15 Baz takes off with three GBU-31(V)1 JDAM bombs for a strike mission. (Photo: Israeli Air Force)

The Israeli Air Force is employing (almost) all its available aircraft day and night since the fighting erupted, dropping hundreds of tons of ordnance on Hamas targets and evacuating hundreds of casualties.

The Israeli Defence Forces have always been pretty active on social media. Since the attack from Hamas on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023 and the subsequent war, their pages provide situational updates, activity reports and videos of the air strikes. Among all the material shared online, some photos and clips also show the assets currently being employed in the operation “Swords of Iron” and it seems the Israeli Air Force is employing every combat aircraft at its disposal.

The IAF fleet is mainly based on the F-15 and F-16, with multiple variants of them, with the F-35 in service in smaller numbers. All of them are actively being used to strike targets inside the Gaza strip, in addition to the strikes performed by the AH-64 fleet. Surveillance aircraft are also likely being employed, such as the Nachshon fleet, and at least one tanker was tracked online via Mode-S, along with remotely piloted aircraft, some of those can be constantly heard flying overhead in the live Youtube streams from Gaza.

Israel is the first export customer of the F-15 and its fleet is divided in two main “branches”: the F-15 “Baz”, with all the variants from A to D, and the F-15I “Ra’am”. The fleet might further expand as at least 25 F-15EX have been requested to the U.S. government. The Baz has been upgraded throughout the years, bringing the aircraft to the Baz 2000 configuration with multifunction displays, AESA radar and the ability to employ air-to-ground ordnance, giving them capabilities somewhat similar to the ones of the more advanced Ra’am.

A typical configuration for the F-15s in this air campaign seems to be an armament of three GBU-31(V)1 JDAM bombs, loaded on the centerline and wing stations, and the Elta ELL-8222 ECM pod. External fuel tanks are not being used, while air-to-air weapons are not always present and limited to a couple of missiles. The JDAMs appear equipped with MXU-735A/B solid nose plugs which allow enhanced penetration compared to the standard configuration (although not as much as the penetrator GBU-31(V)3).

The IAF’s larger fleet is made of F-16s, which now are divided in F-16C and D “Barak” and F-16I “Sufa”. Israel is the largest F-16 operator outside the United States and the Fighting Falcon has been the service’s workhorse in every military operation since it entered service. As for the F-15s, the Barak fleet was upgraded throughout the years with new capabilities.

It appears the F-16s are flying in a heavier configuration than the F-15s, typically with four GBU-31(V)1 JDAMs bombs, in addition to a centerline external fuel tank and up to two air-to-air missiles. This loadout is possible as the Israeli F-16s are the only ones to be able to load JDAMs also on the inner 4 and 6 pylons, in addition to the standard 3 and 5 pylons. Configurations with GBU-54 Laser JDAMS have also been employed.

Interestingly, the videos and images circulated so far do not show the employment of local guided weapons such as the Rafael Spice bombs, with the only video showing the weapon’s usage in Gaza being debunked as a years old video after fact checking. Even more interestingly, the F-16s appear to be making also large use of the Korean and Vietnam War era M117 750 b unguided bomb.

Photos and videos show in fact F-16s carrying four of these bombs under their wings. It is unclear, however, how the M117s are being employed, as in dense urban areas like Gaza the use of precision weapons is imperative to avoid collateral damage and the videos of the strikes published so far do not allow to discern the type of bomb being used.

The fleet of highly customized F-35I “Adir” is also being employed, according to a photo and few video frames published by the IAF. Although the F-35I fleet is smaller compared to the others, the 5th gen aircraft can still bring a great contribute to the operations thanks to its multiple advanced capabilities. The aircraft are operating without external stores and possibly armed with two GBU-31(V)1 JDAM bombs each.

Another asset heavily used in the strikes is the AH-64, which are in service both as AH-64A “Peten” and AH-64D “Saraph”. In the photos released so far, the helicopters appear to be typically loaded with external fuel tanks and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, other than the onboard M230 chain gun. The few photos released do not show the use of the local Spike missile.

Although not in a combat role, UH-60 “Yanshuf” and CH-53 “Yas’ur” are also being heavily employed. In fact, the two helicopter types have been seen involved in MEDEVAC missions to help evacuate the thousands of wounded after the start of the attack on Oct.7, as well as troops transport missions.

Contrary to some click-bait titles from Italian media outlets, Israel is not using in combat the M-346 “Lavi”. The aircraft, in fact, is a trainer and is not cleared to load live weapons, with the only authorized loads being external fuel tanks and BDU-33 25 lb (inert) practice bombs. The only variant of the M-346 able to load weapons is the newer M-346FA, which however, is not in service in Israel.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.