Ex-Lavi chief calls for new fighter, not $11 billion on F-35

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.


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35 Responses to Ex-Lavi chief calls for new fighter, not $11 billion on F-35

  1. Robert 27 July, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    Totally agree. F35 is meant for IADS evasion/suppression, NOT for air superiority: entirely different concept.

  2. Jetcal1 27 July, 2010 at 5:27 pm #


  3. Akash 27 July, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    India with its MCA program could be an excellent partner for the Israelis.

  4. sferrin 27 July, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    Oh yeah, that’d be cheaper.

  5. Atomic Walrus 27 July, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    Interesting. I’m not sure how he thinks that a new fighter competitive with the F-35 would be developed for $11 billion. F-35 development is projected to come it at something like $49 billion (for three variants, of course), and that doesn’t include any of the technology inputs from previous R&D programs such as the F-22. Or the procurement costs of buying airframes at the end of development. Working with France, Russia, or India would also be interesting. French policy hasn’t been very pro-Israel for a long time (the Kfir being developed because France cut them off from Mirage 5s in the ’60s), Russia is similiarly not all that pro-Israel, and neither is India.

  6. John 27 July, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    Why not China? They put the Lavi into production didn’t they?

  7. Stephen Trimble 27 July, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    Ooo, good question. The links between Lavi and J-10 have never been officially recognized. There’s obviously some deep sensitivity about Israeli ties to the Chinese while receiving some of the US millitary’s most sensitive equipment essentially for free. Remember the episode of the Harpy UAV technology transfer from 2004, I believe, which temporarily banished Israel from the F-35 office.

  8. Jetcal1 27 July, 2010 at 7:08 pm #

    Well, your comment got me to thinking. Does Israel need a fighter, fighter-bomber, or single engine bomb truck? What does India need? I can see similar needs, but I think the mission profiles would be different. Except for long range forays Israel can trade fuel for payload. I’m not sure India would have that luxury. The elegant solution would be an aircraft that has sufficiently low wing and power loading to be agile, and large enough to carry fuel and mission payloads overlong distances. (Maybe like Lavi meets F-16XL.) But we run into the old conundrum of airframe weight.

    Maybe the Israeli’s should just buy the rights to the J-10 and modify it with India into a Lavi-XL. That would give the Chinese fits.

  9. Jetcal1 27 July, 2010 at 7:09 pm #

    Steve, you’re killin’ me!

  10. Uwe 27 July, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    The US is hightech savy because they spend exceptional amounts of money on “defense” not because they are good in an efficient manner at it.

  11. dude 27 July, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

    “Russia is similiarly not all that pro-Israel, and neither is India.”

    What decade are you living in, A.Walrus? Last time i check, Russian is interested in a whole array of Israeli UAV and that the Jewish state is India’s largest arm exporter.

  12. Atomic Walrus 27 July, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    Looks like I’m mistaken about Israel-India relations – they actually have some fairly significant ties. However, I’m still not clear about what the benefit would be of a joint development project. India is already working with Russia, a much more experienced fighter developer than Israel.

  13. Sintra 27 July, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    A very great chunk of the Israeli Armed Forces are directly payed by the United States tax payer. The Israeli military/industrial complex relies heavily on us money, us technology and exports quite a lot to the US Armed Forces.
    Now, of course that the Pentagon and the US Administration would be thrilled to see the likes of IAI, ELTA and Elbit working directly (and openly) with Sukhoi on direct competition to the JSF!
    What would happen next, Iran being invited to the JSF team?
    This Israeli/Russian/Indian/French/Polinesian/whatever colaboration scheme is an interesting idea but it has more or less the same chances of happening has the proverbial snow storm in Ougadougou.

    (Now, whats that thing with canards, a single engine and red stars?) :)


  14. Boris Medved 27 July, 2010 at 11:15 pm #

    Russians are developing their Fifth Generation Fighter, the PAK-FA T-50, for 10 Billion Dollars.

    JSF Program has already spent over 64 Billion Dollars, according to the latest CAPE figures.

    Dan Crowley scoffed at using anything from the F-22 Program – ya gotta understand the internal politics, you know.

  15. mIKE 27 July, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    Is a manned fighter even necessary? Considering the influx of ucavs, wouldnt it be cheaper and more cost effective to develop better Israeli ucavs, than an expensive manned stealth fighter

  16. Big D 28 July, 2010 at 7:30 am #

    It seems to me, that unless Israel decides that it needs F-35 for SEAD vs. Grumble-class threats, they would be much better served by buying more conventional multirole fighters.

    Heck, a F-15SE variant with max exportable tech would probably be a great choice–adding effective long-range strike against Iran, with some degree of front-aspect stealth vs. Grumble, while also being just as useful closer to home as their existing -15/16 fleet. They’d be able to buy them in far more significant quantities, while still being able to make full use of the “free” money they get.

  17. Akash 28 July, 2010 at 8:55 am #

    SFerrin, it could be cheaper for Israel, as India would fund the AMCA pretty much entirely on its own & Israels contribution could be around sharing technology, IP in lieu of direct funds.

    Chances of all this happening though, near zero. Israel is not gonna p*off its greatest supplier/supporter who funds a huge portion of its budget.

  18. Jazbar 28 July, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    Why do you think that Russia & India would accept Israely partnership?

  19. Graeme A 28 July, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    Israel’s defense budget is $13bn plus change. US military aid (that must be spent in the US) is another $3bn.
    It is unlikely that Israel will forego that aid.
    What killed the Lavi was US pressure. The US did not want to support a (better?) rival to the F-16 and thus detracting from its market.
    It is likely that the same would happen today regardless of partners to Israel in this venture. Especially with potential buyers of the F-35 regarding the ballooning price tag and delays of the F-35 with growing unease and thus the need for Lockheed to defend its market.

    Should Israel choose the unlikely course of foregoing US defense aid, the leading candidate for a partnership is India. Others who have sought alternatives to the F-35 and F-22 are South Korea and Japan, neither of whom have strong defense ties to Israel. (but neither did India 10 yrs ago).

  20. Royce 28 July, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    Who is Israel planning to fight that has an advanced air force? Seems like a total waste of resources to me. They just bought over 100 new F-16s and can upgrade their F-15s with all the black boxes they’d need to handle their enemies.

    Do you need an advanced air superiority fighter to fight Hamas or bomb Lebanese guerillas?

  21. Graeme A 28 July, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

    Israel must plan for an Iran equipped with S-300 SAMs and Su-33′s or other advanced equipment. Egypt has an ailing leader. If that leadership would pass to the radical Islamic opposition, Israel will face them too. Turkey is in the process of following the footsteps of the Iranian Islamic revolution and they are due to buy some 100 F-35′s. Not to mention Jordan and Saudi Arabia whose non democratic governments could see dramatic and radical change at any time. The latter have F-16′s, F-15E’s and Typhoons.
    When planning for the next 20 years, Israel must take these all into account.

    Whose bothering about Hamas or Hizbollah terrorists?

  22. dude 28 July, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    Israeli faces a whole array of threats ranging from suicide bombers to $500/piece DIY rocket attacks to beyond-thy-border MRBM assaults.

    The countermeasures — given the finite amount of defense resources — must be equally multi-spectral.


  23. Royce 28 July, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Taking out Iran’s air defense system is not going to need a new fighter. Turkey going Islamic and will use their F-35s against Israel? This just isn’t realistic.

    The other countries have no desire to mess with an Israeli state, and any movement to adopt an offensive posture using U.S.-supplied weaponry would lead to an immediate embargo and degradation of capabilities. The chance of Saudi Typhoons being used against Israeli fighters during the next 20 years is about zero. Maybe even less.

  24. Akash 28 July, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    India has two advanced fighter programs. The Russians are involved with the FGFA, not the AMCA.

  25. MrSatyre 28 July, 2010 at 8:15 pm #

    I think the major point everyone (including Arens) is that of the time frame the Lave was conceived in. It was in development during the 80′s, which means it almost certainly would not have seen deployment in any significant numbers until the mid to late 90′s at best. It would have been very, VERY quickly made obsolete by 21st Century 4++ and 5G fighters such as the Typhoon, Gripen, F-15SE, Su-27 family, PAK-FA, etc.

    Clearly the Lavi borrowed heavily from the F-16 (and possibly even the F-16AFTI and F-20 Tigershark designs, both of which were terrific. That’s not the issue. The issue is that it was already obsolete when it was designed. Israel was smart to abandon it. The Lavi would have been an outstanding fighter…in the 80′s.

  26. Raja Sekhar 29 July, 2010 at 9:34 am #


    Yes.I agree with you.

    India and Israel can make new fighter jet..

    We are always with Great and Brave Israel.

    Long Live India and Israel..

  27. Alex 29 July, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    The Russian-Israeli-Indo-French cooperation in the development of combat aircraft – is reality of today. Look at the Su-30MKI. Why not be the T-50MKI?

  28. wesley 30 July, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    While I appreciate Arens’ frustration regarding the lack of flexibility for allowing Israeli electronics to be integrated with the F-35, I have trouble seeing an Israeli fighter alternative that does not involve US participation.

    It’s not merely who would supply the jet engine for such an airplane (the US being the most likely, if not the only alternative), nor is it about the military aid which the US supplies to Israel (which has not kept pace with inflation). It’s about politics.

    For an Israeli program to survive, despite political pressure to the contrary, it will need support from some major US interests. That means finding a US partner (Boeing or Northrop Grumman), and a US customer. The most likely role to fill would be to deliver an accelerated airplane to meet both Israel’s and the US Navy’s NGAD requirement – aimed at 2020 instead of 2025.

  29. Aussie Digger 31 July, 2010 at 1:50 am #

    Well given the American’s paid 90% + of the entire Lavi project, before Israeli decided she didn’t want it and cancelled the whole thing, I suspect America might be less keen to fund another jet on behalf of Israel…

    Especially one that may compete against the F-35…

    So Israel that talks about being poor and unable to cover the “huge” cost of F-35, thinks it can manage the cost of developing a fighter from scratch AND acquiring it in significant numbers, eh?

    Sure. Whatever…

  30. cdi 31 July, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    An entire difference between construction and creation is precisely this: a thing constructed can only be loved right after it’s constructed; yet a thing created is loved before it exists.

  31. Ex-Airman 2 August, 2010 at 3:27 am #

    “Why not China? They put the Lavi into production didn’t they?”

    Seems logical – yes, but it would be political suicide. Remember what happened to the attempted sale of the Phalcon AEW to China some time back?

    But it’s not that some diminution of the Israeli lobby’s influence is a bad thing…

  32. Eric 4 August, 2010 at 9:55 pm #

    A suggestion for Mr. Moshe Ahrens and the Israeli Defense Establishment: Instead of the sore F-35, buy some F-15SEs and in parallel, develop a long-range UCAS by your own means (w/o American equipment or money), maybe with a Russian engine (like from the SU-35).
    That should be much cheaper, preserve some national independence, and cover all present and future threats to Israel (except Hamas and Hizbollah).
    If India could be a partner, welcome. But this is less likely considering their involvement in Russia’s PAK-FA.

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