Reports out of Israel on Thursday say that several F-16 engines have been stolen from a base in a central part of the country. Israel Defense Forces officials suspect the engines were stolen with inside help, though by whom and for what purpose they do not know.
The IDF speculates the engines may have been stolen to be sold for scrap.
In June 2011, the IDF reported the loss of eight F-15 and F-16 fighter engines from a base at Tel Nof near Jerusalem. Officials played down the loss saying the engines were old or retired and likely stolen for scrap.
But U.S. security and aviation experts contacted by Military.com at the time were not so dismissive of the missing engines. They said that some countries would see value in having them and taking them apart.
Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis with Teal Group, a Washington, D.C. defense industry research corporation, noted then that modern technology engine design remains “a black art” and that competitors would love the opportunity to study them.
“They’re still more modern than anything in the Iranian air force inventory, and they would even be helpful to China in their jet engine development,” Aboulafia said at the time.
The engines would each weigh more than 3,700 pounds.
John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Va., defense and intelligence think tank, said at the time that even old F-15 and F-16 engines were “better than anything the communist Chinese have.”
The engines, which could be Pratt & Whitney or GE, have “superior” thrust-to-weight ratio and better fuel consumption than anything in the Chinese air force, he said.
Pentagon officials last year offered no comment on the thefts but referred questions to the Israelis. The Pentagon’s response to the latest thefts was the same.
“This is something you’ll want to most likely talk to the Israelis about. Obviously we have had a longstanding relationship with the Israelis and we’ll continue to,” said a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Jack Miller.
The public affairs office of the Israeli embassy in Washington referred Military.com’s questions to officials in Jerusalem.
History has shown it’s not impossible to steal jet engines.
In two cases, investigative officials found the thieves had inside help.
In 2009, two F-5 engines were stolen from an airbase in Malaysia, tracked to Argentina and ultimately located in Uruguay. A Malaysian air force sergeant was charged along with a businessman with stealing the engines.
In 1989, two U.S. Air Force security policemen were charged in connection with the theft of three F-16 engines from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Those engines were recovered.