I spent a week touring Israel’s aerospace industry last November, which included a sighting of the only known survivor of the Lavi program. One of many things I came away with is a sense that Israel wants to return to the ranks of the world’s developers of manned combat aircraft, rather than a niche supplier of systems and UAVs.
Ex-Lavi program manager and minister of defense Moshe Arens writes in Haaretz today that Israel would be better off launching a joint development program with Russia and India to build a new fighter rather than spend $11 billion to buy 75 Lockheed Martin F-35s. See excerpt below:
Are there alternatives to swallowing our pride and shelling out $3 billion for 20 F-35s? (The original plan had been to acquire 75 aircraft, which would have brought the price above $11 billion, but that was too expensive. ) Before we make that commitment, a little intellectual effort should be invested in looking at other options.
Does Israel still have the technological capability to design a first-rate fighter aircraft? That needs to be examined in some depth. No doubt some of the capability that existed at the time of the Lavi project has been lost over the years, but as has been proved time and again, Israel has a world-class technological capability. Its success in unmanned aerial vehicles is only one of a number of examples.
If it turns out that the capability to design the IAF’s next fighter aircraft does exist in Israel, where could we go from there? Not to the U.S. Congress in search of funding, because we would have to remind them that 27 years ago they were fools to invest $1 billion in the development of the Lavi that Israel decided it did not want. We would have to look for partners who are prepared to invest resources in such a project, who have the necessary technological capability, and who are not involved in the F-35 project.
Are there such candidates? In theory, yes. France, with a great aeronautical industry, chose not to participate in the F-35 project. India, with a considerable aeronautical capability and a meteorically growing economy, might be another candidate. And there is Russia. Perhaps none of them would be interested, and perhaps all of them would be. It’s worth a try.