Following the Gulf War of 1991, in which Israeli cities and towns were bombarded with Scud missiles launched from Iraq, the Israel Defense Force/Air Force concluded that it had a need for a long-range interdiction and strike aircraft. In 1993, they issued a Request for Information (RFI) for two squadrons of multirole combat aircraft.
In response to the RFI, Lockheed Martin offered the F-16C/D, McDonnell Douglas offered the F/A-18C/D and a version of the F-15E Strike Eagle specific to Israeli requirements, termed the F-15I. On January 27, 1994, the Israeli government announced that they intended to purchase the F-15I. Last-minute attempts by Lockheed's Fort Worth Division (formerly owned by General Dynamics) to interest Israel in a new version of the Fighting Falcon known as F-16ES (Enhanced Strategic) failed.
The Israeli order was quickly approved, and a letter of offer and acceptance was signed on May 12, 1994 between the governments of the United States and Israel, authorizing McDonnell Douglas to build 21 F-15Is for the IDF/AF (Peace Fox V) plus an option for four more (Peace Fox VI). This option was exercised in November of 1995, raising the total order to 25.
The first flight of the F-15I took place at St. Louis on September 12, 1997. An official roll-out ceremony was held at St. Louis on November 6, 1997. The IDF/AF officially took delivery of the first F-15I on November 6, 1997. In January of 1998, the first F-15Is were delivered to 69 Squadron Hammers, based at Hatzerim AB. The delivery rate continued at about one airframe per month, with the last example arriving in Israel in September of 1999. The F-15I is known as Ra'am (Thunder) in IDF/AF service.
The F-15I is essentially similar to the USAF F-15E but has some internal electronics systems specifically adapted to meet Israeli requirements. Many of these components were to be built in Israel. In order to ensure a night-fighting capability, the F-15Is were initially fitted with some of the 30 Sharpshooter targeting pods originally intended for Israel's F-16 fleet. These Sharpshooter pods are less capable than the LANTIRN of the USAF F-15E version, but Israel was eventually be allowed to buy new LANTIRN pods to complete the F-15I's night vision suite, and 30 AN/AAQ-14 and AN/AAQ-13 LANTIRN pods were eventually delivered. This will make the F-15I essentially identical to the USAF F-15E.
The only significant difference between the F-15I and the F-15E is that the F-15Is were delivered without the TEWS defensive system. Israel often prefers to install its own electronic warfare equipment in its aircraft. The F-15I does not have the AN/ALQ-128 electronic warfare warning system or the AN/ALQ-135 ICMS, but does have additional upward-firing chaff and flare dispensers on the upper surface of the rear fuselage. The missing electronics have been replaced by the Israeli-built Elisra SPS-2110 Integrated Electronic Warfare System. An indigenous central computer and embedded GPS/INS system has been fitted. All of the aircraft's sensors can be slaved to an Elbit Systems DASH helmet-mounted sight, giving both crew members an efficient targeting mechanism. It has been reported that the F-15I has the capability of turning on its radar while still on the ground, permitting it to scan for enemy aircraft while still waiting to scramble at the end of the runway.
All F-15Is are powered by a pair of Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-229 turbofans, and the engine exhaust nozzles retain the "turkey feather" covers that have long been deleted on previous Israeli F-15s.
The F-15I is operated by the famous IDF/AF No 69 Hammers Squadron, which had previously been operating the Kurnass (Phantom). The first F-15I operational sortie was flown over Lebanon on January 11, 1999. The aircraft can carry and launch the AIM-9L and the Rafael Python 4 infrared homing missiles. The Python 4 can be launched at up to 90 percent off boresight, the pilot simply looking at and locking onto the target through the helmet-mounted display. For BVR engagements, it can carry either the AIM-7 Sparrow or the AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. The aircraft can carry the the two LANTIRN pods--the AN/AAQ-13 targeting pod and the AN/AAQ-14 navigation pod--and these are used together to carry out precision attacks in all weather situations. The AN/AAQ-14 pod also has a built-in terrain-following radar which can be linked to the automatic pilot, while the pod's FLIR image can be projected onto the pilot's heads-up display. During night operations, the pilot can use night vision goggles, and the cockpit lighting is deliberately designed so that it does not obstruct this system.
In 1999, Israel announced its intention to procure more fighter aircraft, and the F-15I was a possible contender. However, it was recently announced that the contract would go to the F-16I, a specialized version of the Fighting Falcon.
94-286/310 McDonnell Douglas F-15I Ra'am (Thunder) Version of F-15E for Israel as 001/021 under *Peace Fox V/VI*. Exact USAF serial numbers still uncertain. c/n 1276/I001, 1278/I002, 1286/I003, 1288/I004, 1290/I005, 1292/I006, 1294/I007, 1296/I008, 1298/I009, 1300/I010, 1302/I011, 1304/I012, 1306/I013, 1308/I014, 1310/I015, 1313/I016, 1315/I017, 1317/I018, 1319/I019, 1321/I020, 1323/I021, 1325/I022, 1329/I023, 1333/I024, 1337/I025.