Fifty years into their lives, the Israeli air force and the country's defence aerospace industry are confronted by a rapidly changing strategic environment and industrial challenges as the global defence market restructures. In the first five decades of their existence both have proved adept at meeting these. As Israel begins to head towards its centenary both are once again being asked to display such qualities. Douglas Barrie, Arie Egozi and Graham Warwick review the prospects for the air force, and the industry which supports it.

Haim Herzog, a former President of Israel, described the events which took place on 5 June, 1967, as "possibly the most brilliant operation in Israeli military history". Herzog was referring to the operation led by General Mordechai Hod, the then Israeli air force commander, which was to ensure the Israelis' air supremacy throughout the Six Day War.

The morning of 5 June saw Israel launch pre-emptive strikes against 19 Egyptian air force bases. The Jordanian air force was also decimated in the first day's air operations.

By the end of the second day, the Syrian and Iraqi air forces had also been defeated: almost 400 of the Arab states' combat aircraft, nearly 60% of their combined force, had been lost in the opening 48h of hostilities. The Israeli air force had lost 26 aircraft.

Those few days in June encapsulated Israel's strategic position: surrounded by implacably hostile states bent on the destruction of the Jewish nation. While, however, its opponents could wage "total war" against Israel, the latter was limited to waging only a limited war.

While Israel has captured territory, its military ambitions have been limited to the defeating of the enemy on the field of battle, rather than the destruction of the enemy states per se.

From its extraordinary beginnings in defending the embryonic Israeli state in 1948 with an eclectic mix of Supermarine Spitfires and Avia S-199s (a Czech-built Messerschmitt Me-109), the air force has played a critical role in the security of the state.

Now the pre-eminent air force in the region, it is faced with a changing geo-strategic environment to which it must adapt, as it prepares to face the challenges of its next 50 years. The country is no longer ringed by nations which refuse to recognise the state of Israel . The "Peace Process", however faltering, has greatly enhanced its overall security .

The diminution of the perceived threat from its "inner circle" of neighbours, coupled with concern over the strategic posture of certain states in the "outer circle" is having a clear impact on the Israeli air force. Doctrinally it is having more and more to consider long range strike and air superiority missions in addressing the potential threat from such countries as Iran and Iraq.

The nature of the threat is also developing, with doctrine having to address the emergence of intermediate range ballistic (IRBMs) and cruise missiles as a critical target set.

Unlike in 1967, when air supremacy meant the elimination of the opposition's ability to effectively employ its air arm in strikes against Israeli territory or its armed forces, future threat scenarios add the further dimension of having also to nullify their ability to deploy and utilise ballistic and cruise missiles.

Dealing with even a limited ballistic missile threat, as the Gulf War was dramatically to detail, is no easy task, demanding considerable resources across the broad spectrum of air assets in even beginning to counter such weaponry.

While faced with an evolving threat, the air force, as is all of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), is also having to confront political and social change within Israel. The "Peace Process" has nurtured the expectation of a peace dividend within the Israeli populous - and, despite extremely generous US military aid, purse strings will undoubtedly tighten.

The events of 5 June, 1967 are now firmly enshrined in the pantheon of Israeli victories, as well as entering the mythology of the air warfare community as a critical example of the value of air power, and of its employment.

In continuing its pursuit of dominance the Israeli air force is in the throes of its next combat aircraft purchase: a procurement clearly driven by its changing strategic perceptions.

The service is slowly, but inexorably, moving towards a two-type front line combat fleet mix of Boeing F-15s and the Lockheed Martin F-16s. Over the next few years, its remaining Douglas A-4 Skyhawks and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms and Phantom 2000s will be withdrawn from service.

Its latest batch purchase, the choice of which is expected to be announced by the end of this year, is intended to enhance further the air force's strike capability. Both the F-16 Block 60, and the F-15I variant of the F-15EStrike Eagle already in service with the Israeli air force are modified to enhance significantly the basic combat radius of the respective platforms. What both the F-15I and Block 60 configurations also reflect is the changed strategic circumstance, and the emerging threat scenarios that face the Israeli air force beyond the turn of the century.

Whatever the eventual outcome of the Block 60 versus F-15I competition, however, the winning combat aircraft will remain only a bridge for the air force until the next generation of fighters becomes available.

The general consensus within Israel is that the F-15 will be superseded by the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, while the F-16 will be succeeded by the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), should the latter programme come to fruition in a form acceptable to the Israeli air force.

Fighter mix strategy

The F-22 will provide the top end of the service's fighter mix strategy, replacing its F-15s in the air superiority role, probably beginning in the second decade of the next century. A similar replacement time scale for the entry into service of the JSF is also likely.

The F-22 could also potentially provide an eventual strike platform replacement for the F-15I and, should it be selected, the F-16 Block 60. The US Air Force is looking to develop a strike variant of the F-22 as a replacement for the F-15E Strike Eagle, and for the Lockheed Martin F-117A.

With the particular exception of the Israeli air force's strike carried out on Iraq's nuclear facilities at Osirak, the service's "traditional roles" have predominantly been those of defensive counter air, offensive counter-air/interdiction, and close air support.

The air defence places particularly stringent demands upon the air force, not least of all in terms of geography. For the vast majority of its existence, the service has faced adversaries only a few minutes flying time from its own air space. One need only take a look at any map of Israel - bordered by Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria- to grasp the precarious nature of its strategic position.

The premium on providing a near real-time recognised air picture using both ground and air surveillance radar has thus been extremely high.

Locked into this is the requisite ability fully to exploit radar data through a command and control infrastructure capable of providing timely and accurate battle management support to to military aircrew.

The value of an integrated, but flexible, command and control infrastructure was readily apparent in the Beka'a Valley campaign. The air battle between the Israeli and Syrian air forces resulted in the loss of 85 of the latter's Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbeds and MiG-23 Floggers. No Israeli aircraft were lost as a result of Syrian fighter action.

Following its experience of the Russian 2K12 Kub (SA-6 Gainful) medium-altitude self-propelled surface to air missile (SAM) during the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli air force's initial operational focus was to destroy Syrian SA-6 sites in the Beka'a, as a first step to gaining air superiority. In the ensuing air exchanges, this superiority was rapidly to translate into supremacy.

The Syrian air force also recognised the value of command and control, although its model was that of a Soviet infrastructure. Its greatest single failing, however, was to be inseparably wed to a ground controlled intercept (GCI) doctrine. When the Israel used its electronic warfare (EW) assets to disrupt effectively the Syrian air force's GCI command structure, the latter's ability to offer any orchestrated counter-air capability collapsed.

Operational analysis and assessment is not the sole domain of the Israeli air force, however. Just as the Egyptian air force learned of the need for an integrated and mobile SAM defence from the 1967 debacle, as evinced in the Yom Kippur War, so Syria undoubtedly drew lessons from the Beka'a Valley fiasco.

Since the 1982 operation Israel's strategic situation has undergone a marked change. The "Peace Process", slow though it now may be under the tutelage of Prime Minster Benyamin Netanyahu, has seen the inner circle of potential threat nations either enter into, or be in the process of, negotiating treaties.

Inner circle

There are indications that Syria, which continues to maintain a large combat aircraft inventory including the MiG-29 Fulcrum and Sukhoi Su-24MK Fencer, and Israel are beginning once again to open at least unofficial channels to re-invigorate stalled treaty talks.

Were a solution to be found to such sensitive issues as the ownership of the Golan Heights in northern Israel, then effectively all of the nations described by Israel Defence Force officials as the "inner circle" would have normalised relations with Israel.

Such a geo-strategic shift in emphasis has considerable operational and procurement ramifications for the air force, as well as consequences for the Israel defence aerospace industry in supporting its air force's needs.

While the inner circle may no longer be considered as an immediate military concern, Israeli threat analysis continues to pose a clear potential threat from "outer circle" nations, with Iraq and Iran an obvious focus of concern.

This shift in the perceived threat requires that the air force re-examine elements of its operational doctrine, force and command and control structure and inventory to reflect such changes.

In terms of combat aircraft, the air force has already begun to address aspects of extended range operations. The procurement of the F-15IBaz was intended to provide the service with a combat platform capable of conventional deep strike operations against both fixed and mobile high value targets.

In competing with the F-15I for the initial procurement, and for Israel's latest fighter batch, Lockheed Martin is proposing a modified F-16 optimised for deep penetration missions.

Acquiring a credible extended range strike capability requires more, however, than merely procuring a long range combat aircraft. Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) executive vice-president Ovadia Harari is quick to point out that successfully mounting such offensive air operations demands the significant command and control and reconnaissance capabilities necessary to support such operations.

Harari says that, within IAI's recently completed strategic business plan for the next two decades, two areas of substantial growth have been identified: command and control, and intelligence.

One of the areas that the air force is looking to use its long range strike capability to combat is the threat of intermediate range ballistic missiles. The threat of these to Israeli territory was made all too readily apparent during the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraq launched numerous Al Husseins, a modified Scud B, against the country.

Two methods of countering Al Hussein attacks were used during the Gulf War, but both resulted in palpably little - if any - success. Israel was provided with Raytheon Patriot SAM batteries to defeat the incoming Al Husseins during the terminal phase of the engagement. The USAF, and its allies, meanwhile, expended considerable effort in the so-called "Scud hunts" in attempting to destroy the launchers and missiles on the ground.

The Patriot, originally designed to combat aircraft targets, proved woefully inadequate as an anti-tactical ballistic missile weapon, while locating the Al Hussein transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicles proved to be the proverbial search for a needle in an extremely large haystack.

The shortcomings of both the Patriot version deployed, and of the air operations against the TELs, has led the IDF to look at other methods of countering the ballistic missile threat across a broad spectrum of options. Rather than focus on one system as the single counter to the IRBM threat, the Israeli approach is that of a layered defence.

Options actively under consideration include the use of terminal phase engagement systems, such as the Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile system, the IBIS/MOAB boost phase intercept approach, the potential use of airborne lasers, and offensive air operations initiated before missile launch.

The air force's concept of operations in dealing with the IRBM threat is predicated on an attrition approach, effectively a recognition of the inherent difficulties in defeating an IRBM once it has actually been launched.

This is not to say that either the air force, or the country's aerospace industry, believe that an IRBM is invulnerable once it is fired. Rather, it is a recognition that, for terminal phase interceptions, the fewer number of targets that are available, the greater is the probability of complete success. While "IRBM leakers" at both the pre-launch and boost phase are acceptable, if to be kept to a minimum, a failure during the terminal phase is far less so.

The terminal phase intercept takes on greater significance, given the risk that the payload may be chemical, biological, or even nuclear.

In mounting offensive air operations against land-mobile intermediate range ballistic missile systems, expeditious target identification and location are critical concerns. In terms of addressing these, the IDF is leaning toward the use of space-based sensors.

As far as Scud-type targets are concerned, Harari says: "The question of where is the target is obviously the critical issue." He believes that going after the TEL vehicle requires the ability to "-identify them and kill them within about a 30min window", in the run-up to an actual missile firing.

He does not try to play down the difficulties of effectively mounting offensive operations where the "-time constraints are very tight". He does, however. believe that the required reconnaissance, command and control, and data fusion technologies are reaching the level of maturity that should make this achievable.

Another plank in countering the IRBM threat, and an obvious complement to extending the mission radius of a strike aircraft, is as Brig General (Res) Itzhak Gat, Rafael President's, notes further improvements to stand-off weaponry.

Rafael's Popeye TV/Imaging infra-red guided stand-off missile, in service with Israel's Phantom 2000 units at least, has a maximum launch range of around 80km (50 miles). The missile relies on a solid propellant booster-sustainer rocket motor manufactured by Rafael's Manor unit.

Extended range configurations of the Popeye, using a turbofan engine, have already been test flown. Fitting an air-breathing propulsion unit to the Popeye airframe is likely to provide the missile with a range foot print approaching 300km. The deployment of such a system by the air force would be quite in keeping with its emerging operational requirements.

Besides the air force's conventional long range strike capability, there is also the issue of its nuclear capability. Despite India and Pakistan both detonating deployable nuclear devices during the second quarter of 1997, Israel has so far adhered to its policy of "vagueness" when it comes to its nuclear arsenal.

That it does have an arsenal is not in doubt. What remains in question is the nature of the weaponry deployed. Certainly, Israel has an IRBM capability with its Jericho 1 and Jericho 2 missiles, with the Jericho 3 also thought to be in development. The air force is also believed to have long deployed free-fall nuclear weaponry. The F-15I is liable to replace the F-4 as the delivery vehicle.

Whether the air force also counts within its inventory an air-launched nuclear stand-off missile remains a matter of conjecture, too. Given the doctrinal shift, however, from direct target attack to the use of stand-off weaponry, it is reasonable to assume that this approach maps across from conventional to nuclear weapons.

Alongside an extended range air-to-surface capability, the air force is potentially faced with a shift in emphasis from within visual range (WVR) air to air engagement tactics to beyond visual range (BVR) engagement scenarios which will have a clear impact on its air combat doctrine.

BVR engagements

It is believed that all of Israel's 85 kills against the Syrian air force during the Beka'a campaign were as the result of WVR engagements, with the majority of the successful engagements being ascribed to the Rafael Python 3 infrared dogfight missile.

The air force deploys the semi-active Raytheon AIM-7 on its F-15s, providing a counter to the Vympel R-27R (AA-10 Alamo A) which is in service with the Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian air forces. Russia is also keen to export the follow-on weapon to the R-27, the active radar guided R-77 (AA-12 Adder). The basic R-77's engagement envelope is comparable to that of the Raytheon AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM). The latter is being procured as part of the service's F-15IBaz programme. The further proliferation of active radar guided AAMs in the region appears only a matter of time.

The service's preference for visual identification can in part be understood by the nature of the air space it has to defend. In any defensive battle over Israeli territory, the air picture is liable rapidly to become confused simply by dint of the potential number of offensive and defensive aircraft in limited air space.

The resulting "furballs" off defensive and offensive aircraft within Israeli air space would make deconflicting potential targets from friendlies extremely difficult in contemplating any BVR missile engagement.

One of the drivers underpinning the development of the Python 4 was the desire to provide a weapon with broad enough seeker acquisition and missile launch parameters to allow a pilot to carry out a stern approach-positive visual identification and engagement in a single pass.

It is also unsurprising that the development timeframe of the missile was extremely similar to that of Russia's Vympel R-73 (AA-11Archer) high agility AAM, which entered service with the Soviet air force in the latter half of the 1980s. Iran is a known R-73 recipient, while Syria and Iraq are also reported to have received the Archer.

A shift in emphasis, from the inner to the outer threat circle, also offers the air force an operational environment more suited to the use of BVR tactics, with considerably greater clarity in terms of deconflicting blue and red air assets. Ingress and egress routes for friendly aircraft would be pre-planned.

Furthermore, the Israelis working toward the acquisition of a datalink capability similar to that of the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System now beginning to be deployed on fighter platforms in the USA and the UK. IAI is working with BVR on the development of the system, which will support an air picture more in keeping with medium range engagements. The datalink will provide visibility of all friendly and threat aircraft, providing the requisite information for targeting and sorting of threat aircraft with BVR weaponry.

Addressing threats at one remove from its immediate border also places a premium on support assets such as tanker, EW, and airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. Israel uses the venerable Boeing 707 as a tanker, electronic intelligence and AEW aircraft.

While the air force's preference for tanker and AEW aircraft remains for a multi-engine rather than a twin aircraft, its next generation of tanker aircraft to replace the venerable Boeing 707 is almost certain to be a modified twin engined widebody commercial aircraft. The Boeing 767 and the Airbus A310 are the most likely candidates to provide Israel with a future tanker, the conversion almost certainly to be to be carried out by IAI's Bedek division.

The Israeli Grumman E-2 Hawkeye AEW aircraft have been retired from service, although the air force is believed to retain an AEW capability through some of 707s being fitted with the IAI Elta conformal phased array antenna radar.

The 1990s, unlike the previous five decades has thankfully yet to see the air force involved in any full confrontation with another state. Some of the actions in which it has been asked to participate, however, have to some also delineated the limits of air power, no matter how effective a conventional capability the air force encompasses.

Operation Grapes of Wrath carried out in 1996 saw the air force involved in offensive operations against what the Israeli Government considered to be terrorist sites in northern Lebanon. The air strikes appeared to be punitive in nature, and lacking both in discrimination and clear military aims. The operation, believe some Israeli observers, was overtly political in nature and ill conceived. This is a concern also voiced by some officers who took part. Air power, for all of its strengths is, in conventional terms at least, ill suited to the requirements of counter-terrorist operations.

While the Six Day War was to establish Israel beyond any doubt as the dominant regional air power, almost as importantly, it was also to establish the paradigm for the relationship between the rapidly evolving operational requirements of the air force, and its industry's ability to meet them.

Air warfare, even more than land and sea combat, remains a dynamic arena. Only seven years after the counter-air successes of the Six Day War, the air force was to receive a brutal lesson in the vulnerability of combat aircraft to correctly employed SAM's in the shape of the Russian-supplied 2K12 Kub (SA-6 Gainful).

The Egyptian armed forces, savaged by the air force in 1967, had looked to the Soviet Union to provide the counter. The Kub was deployed in conjunction with the ZSU-23-4 self propelled anti-aircraft gun to provide organic air cover for armoured units.

The effectiveness of such an approach was readily apparent during the opening exchanges of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The resulting Israeli aircraft losses forced it rapidly to adapt its operational tactics in countering SAM defences. As the outcome of the Yom Kippur war was to show, the service proved capable of the necessary in-field operational flexibility to counter the SAM threat.

Israel's defence aerospace industry knits almost seamlessly with the IDF. The closed loop relationship between the two - many defence aerospace professionals are also active air force reservists - provides an environment which is particularly suited to rapid prototyping of weapons systems. The potential end user may also be the designer.

Systems deployed by the air force during the 1982 Beka'a Valley campaign reflected both its experience in the Yom Kippur War, and the relative rapidity with which its industry was able to respond in addressing emerging operational needs.

In developing a suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) capability to defeat the type of SAM defences encountered in the 1973 conflict, the air force became the first to deploy tactical unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) in significant numbers. The UAVs were used both as reconnaissance platforms, mounting electro-optical sensors, and as decoys intended to spoof Syrian SAM radars.

Development compression

The compression of the traditional development cycle, combined with the intimate involvement of the end user, is a not lost on Maj Gen Herzel Bodinger, a former air force chief, and now President of RADA Electronic Industries.

"We have two geographical disadvantages: our size, and our potentially hostile neighbours. We also, though, have the advantage of a small country. When our regulars become reservists they remain very much tied into their units while they are in industry, so there is a close connection between the two," he says.

Bodinger notes that the UAVs used in the Lebanon campaign in 1982 were prototypes. Prototypes or not, they proved extremely effective in, among other things, forcing Syrian air defence units to light up their SAM battery search radars, disclosing their positions and leaving them vulnerable to SEAD strikes.

Another weapon which demonstrated its value during the Beka'a Valley air exchanges was the Rafael Python 3 infrared short range air-to-air missile.

The Yom Kippur War had revealed the limitations of the AIM-9 Sidewinder variants deployed by the Israel, as it also had to some extent that of the Rafael Shafrir 1. In particular, it was becoming apparent that the limited warhead size, even if detonated successfully within the design lethal radius, was resulting in only the aircraft being disabled.

While there remains in the public view an element of chivalric honour in air combat, there is no place for such misplaced romance among air force personnel.

The harsh arithmetic of armed conflict marks down an aircraft kill as only an incomplete victory. A pilot who ejects is a pilot who has been given the opportunity to learn from the mistakes that have resulted from the loss of an aircraft in air combat. There is no moral provision for a second chance in modern warfare. An enemy may emerge as a complete victor in the next engagement.

With this in mind, Rafael developed the Python 3, a 160mm-diameter missile with a substantially larger warhead. The Shafrir 1 and AIM-9 have a 127mm diameter. The Python 3 was to prove its efficacy during the Beka'a Valley engagements, where the weapon is credited with some 50 kills.

Bodinger, as an air force pilot in the late 1960s and early 1970s, worked on the Shafrir development programme, carrying out numerous test engagements. He notes that, as far back as the latter half of the 1970s, with the Python 3 already in development, there was an embryonic requirement for a high agility short range air to air missile. This was eventually to emerge as the high off-boresight capable Python 4 which entered full operational service in the early 1990s.

The third example of a weapons system first deployed in the Beka'a, based on the lessons of the Yom Kippur War, remains an as-yet classified predecessor to the Rafael Popeye stand-off missile.

Alongside the development of both soft and hard kill SEAD tactics, the air force also looked to acquisition of weapons which would allow the launch aircraft to remain beyond SAM engagement zones.

The Israeli air force is, for historical and numerical reasons, particularly sensitive to aircrew losses, going to considerable lengths to try and minimise these, and to recover pilots who have been forced to eject from the aircraft.

The acme of the collaboration between the IDF and the defence aerospace sector throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s was the IAI Lavi indigenous fighter aircraft project.

IAI's curious roots lie in Burbank, California, and its existence was down to former Israeli Government minister Shimon Peres' desire to forge an indigenous aircraft industry. Peres, in 1952, persuaded David Ben Gurion to support company boss Al Schwimmer in moving his operation to Israel.

From its humble beginnings scavenging flyable aircraft from little more than wrecks, by the early 1980s IAI had developed the prototype of a fighter aircraft to succeed the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom and Dassault Mirage/Kfir family.

If the rest of the defence aerospace sector was developing the avionics and weapons systems for the air force, then IAI was going to provide the platform on which to hang them.

The political and industrial debacle that resulted in the project's cancellation in August 1987 was also to flag up a disadvantage of Bodinger's "small country". Israel is enormously dependent on the USA for its defence budget. In 1999, for example, it will receive some $2.4 billion in military aid .

IAI remains intensely proud of the Lavi. A large photograph of the prototype aircraft still dominates one office wall, more than a decade after its cancellation. Executive vice-president Harari looked after the Lavi programme .

The Lavi was to highlight the limit of Israel's "go it alone" attitude. While the US Government was at ease in bankrolling the acquisition of US manufactured combat aircraft for Israel, it was growing increasingly uncomfortable in funding what was potentially a highly credible competitor to its own manufacturers' products.

US pressure culminated in the programme being abandoned, although the Lavi remains a systems technology demonstrator.

There is also more than a hint of irony in the Lavi project being used as the basis for Israeli technical assistance on the Chinese Chengdu F-10 multirole fighter programme. Israeli involvement in the F-10 project remains a sensitive issue, not least because of the potential for friction with its main ally.

Postponing the inevitable

Even had the Lavi proceeded into production, it would only have been postponing the inevitable. Irrespective of Israel's peculiar strategic circumstance, surrounded by potentially hostile states, it is simply to small to support an indigenous combat aircraft industry.

Abandoning the Lavi project left the air force without a next generation fighter, and also left the industry with no clear focus for its future systems or weapons.

By the mid-1980s, the air force was operating the F-16A/B and the F-15. It remains a major user of both, with F-16C/D models also in widespread service.

Even with the Lavi's cancellation, as one senior former air force officer points out: "Our industry is very advanced, it is very sophisticated, but it also remains too big, so the only way for it to survive is to export."

The demise of the Lavi left the Israel defence aerospace industry with no indigenous target platform for its systems. This, however, provided a curious advantage, that any combat aircraft could therefore become a candidate for Israeli-produced avionics and weapons.

State owned IAI, and privately held Elbit, continue to implement upgrade packages on aircraft as diverse as the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter, F-4 Phantom, Dassault Mirage III, and MiG-21 Fishbed.

Industry was to draw on the systems in development for the Lavi, be it cockpit avionics, weapons, or multimode radar, to provide the building blocks of upgrade packages destined for export customers.

It is also now looking to build upon systems originally developed for the Lavi in providing an upgrade package for the air force's F-16A/Bs, to extend the aircraft's combat life. IAI and Lockheed Martin have already held discussions about possible collaboration on putting together and potentially marketing F-16 upgrade packages.

Harari readily recognises the importance of upgrade programmes to IAI, while also acknowledging the critical role the air force played, and continues to play, in the creation of this capability.

"The upgrades began really over 20 years ago, effectively created by our air force. Israeli air force aircraft go through two, three or even four upgrades during their service life - just take a look at the Phantom 2000."

Another company which has benefited from the air force's upgrade policy is EW specialist Elisra. The company produces the EW suite for the service's first batch of F-15IBaz, and a sanitised variant of this is now being offered for export. Avner Raz, Elisra's president, says he hopes to to supply the EW suite for either the F-16 Block 60 or the F-15I, whichever is selected by the air force as a follow-on fighter purchase. In recognising the need for consolidation within the Israeli defence aerospace sector, Raz admits: "This time, we will co-operate with Elta".

An industry consortium, with IAI in the van, is looking to an F-16A/B upgrade technology demonstrator project to persuade both its own air force and potential export customers of the operational and financial viability of such a programme. Harari says: "By forming a consortium, we are basically putting together the critical mass to do an upgrade package."

The upgrade approach, as he points out, is justified by the age of the aircraft. The air force began to take deliveries of its F-16A/Bs in 1980 and"-you can't even buy the spare parts any more", he says.

The main focus of the proposed upgrade for the F-16A/B fleet has yet to be determined. It remains to be seen whether an improved air to air or air to surface capability takes precedence.

One potential element of the upgrade package, however, is already mired in controversy, although on a different model of F-16 being offered for the air force.

Elta is, with the service's encouragement, offering a variant of the EL/2032 multimode pulse Doppler radar, originally designed for the Lavi, for the Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 60. The Block 60, launched earlier this year by the United Arab Emirates, is in competition with the F-15I Baz for up to a 40 aircraft procurement by the Israeli air force. Fitting the Elta radar, the EL/2050, to the F-16, however, has met strong resistance from the USA.

The radar debate effectively runs along a fault-line in US-Israeli defence relations. There is an inherent tension between the Israeli defence aerospace sector's enthusiasm for export, its Government's interest in garnering international support, and the US regime. The friction has become apparent in the public domain on more than one occasion, where Israel has seen fit to deal with third parties not necessarily in favour with the USA.

US resistance, and that of the USAF in particular, to replacing a US with an Israeli radar is being couched in terms of commonality. The USAF does not want to see a non-standard radar on the F-16.

This may well be the case, but there are suspicions that there remain other reasons besides.

The US Department of Defense (DoD), says one official, has tended to "-release technology by the tea spoon", when it comes to areas it deems sensitive, such as airborne radar.

The air force and industry are keen to fit an indigenous radar in the F-16 because this would provide it with direct access not only to object, but also to source, code software . An object-code only policy, as pursued by the USAF and the DoD, means that any radar modifications, such as for the integration of a non-US standard weapon, will almost certainly need US approval and assistance. This is of importance not only in terms of integrating indigenous weaponry for the air force, but also in terms of being able to offer fully integrated weapons packages as part of any F-16 upgrade.

While, for instance, both the air force and industry remain unwilling to discuss whether they are pursuing development of an active radar-guided BVR air to air missile, such a programme is widely believed to exist, and to be close to maturity.

Israel has only relatively recently been cleared for the AMRAAM as part of its purchase of F-15I Baz strike aircraft. Given the air force's desire to remain at the leading edge of air warfare technology, as evinced by the emergence of the Python 4 high-off boresight dogfight missile, its pursuance of an active-radar guided missile capability on more than 25 F-15Is would hardly appear out of character.

To exploit fully the capabilities of such a weapon, however, full access to the aircraft's fire control radar is required. This is a level of access not available to the air force as far as the AIM-120 and US radar technology is concerned.

Coupled to this is the shift in the global missile market away from the semi-active radar guided AAM in preference to an active-radar solution to the beyond visual range missile engagement. US reticence may in part be related to concerns that, should the EL/2050 be integrated into the F-16, then Israel would be in a position to offer for export an F-16 upgrade package which includes a fully integrated indigenous active radar-guided AAM. The USA has adopted a restrictive approach to the export of the AMRAAM, and it is likely to be less than enamoured by the prospect of even an Israeli active-radar guided missile being proliferated.

In terms of technology, Israeli industry sources suggest that they are well aware of US concerns, but they have structured the radar upgrade proposal such that it more than adequately addresses these. By approaching the alternative Block 60 radar within the confines of a joint Lockheed Martin team it says that the radar will effectively "-be controlled by US export regulations."

Industrial implications

It is not only the air force which is having to face up to the challenges of changing strategic realities. Israel's defence aerospace industries are also having to take stock of their position in the light of growing regional stability and revised security considerations.

This, however, was a process that effectively got under way with the Israeli Government's decision to cancel the Lavi in 1987. The Lavi was to be the high water mark of the Israeli defence aerospace sector as a self contained industrial capability. It was also a capacity deemed to be unsustainable in the light of its dependency on the USA for military aid.

The cancellation of the Lavi crippled Israeli aspirations to be a primary platform provider. Instead, industry was to carve itself a niche as a provider of combat enhancement programmes for existing platforms, both for its own air force, and for export.

It has so far proved to be extremely successful policy, irrespective of the lack of choice. Alongside IAI, Elbit Systems has emerged as the other significant Israeli proponent of combat aircraft upgrades. Elbit is carrying out a substantial upgrade programme for the Romanian air force's MiG-21Bis Fishbed and remains in competition with IAI on other potential Fishbed upgrade programmes. An Israeli consortium headed by Elbit also "won" the Polish Huzar attack helicopter project, although the change of government in Poland has thrown this decision into doubt.

What the state-owned IAI and privately held Elbit also inadvertently reveal is the wasteful and divisive duplication that continues to survive within the Israeli defence aerospace sector. Nor are they the only examples. RADA and BVR, for instance, compete in offering rangeless debriefing systems, while Rafael and IMI are developing competing families of air to surface weaponry. As already noted, Elisra and Elta compete in the provision of airborne EW suites.

Such a situation is unsustainable, especially when the rest of the global defence sector is in the throes of restructuring and retrenching , with far fewer competitors.

The USA is in the van of restructuring its defence aerospace industries in the light of reduced defence expenditure. Europe is following, although at what appears to be a painfully leisurely pace. Russia's defence manufacturing base is also rationalising by dint of its near collapse. Israel has no choice but to follow suite, with the eventual privatisation of IAI and elements of Rafael and IMI viewed as inevitable.

Inevitability of change

Gat recognises the inevitability of change at Rafael, saying: "It is not acceptable that we remain organised as we are today. "He foresees the defence industry shifting from state to private ownership, with consolidation also likely.

The case of Rafael is particularly interesting in that, as yet, it is not even a state-owned company. Rafael is the defence ministry's research and development arm, including its National Laboratories. Some of the systems developed remain among the most sensitive fielded by the IDF, a sensitivity which also surrounds some of its ongoing development programmes.

The full privatisation of what is inevitably viewed as a strategic capability is highly unlikely. Instead, Gat sees a series of steps towards the eventual privatisation of elements of Rafael, the first of which would establish it as a state-held company. The National Laboratories would remain a state-held research and development asset.

The welfare of Israel's aerospace and defence sector, however, will not be in the final analysis solely dependent on what happens internally. Another key area is in the building of international strategic partnerships which will further bolster and support its penetration of the export arena. Rafael, for instance, has begun to forge a potentially strategic relationship with Lockheed Martin in the guided-weapons arena. IAI business units are also no strangers to international teaming agreements, although, until now, this has been on a project-specific basis, as with the Raytheon-Elta tie-up in bidding for the Royal Australian Air Force's AEW programme.

In parallel with the industrial strategic partnerships, the Israeli Government will no doubt continue to use the state's military manufacturing capacity as a useful tool in its foreign policy . One of the most recent examples of this, and one which flags up Israel's pragmatism in the defence industrial arena, is its burgeoning relationship with Turkey.

IAI is implementing what amounts to a mid-life upgrade programme for the Turkish air force's F-4 Phantoms, with Rafael also providing a version of the Popeye stand-off missile. Turkey is also expressing an interest in the Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile programme.

The quid pro quo for Turkey gaining access to Israeli defence technology, at extremely competitive prices, has been the Israeli air force gaining access to Turkish air space.

The service's first 50 years has resulted in the creation of a highly capable battle-hardened force, along with a defence aerospace industry capable of supporting its needs. Over the next five decades, as it moves towards its first century, it would be of benefit to all of the region if deterrence, rather than operational art, is all that is required of the Israeli air force.

Source: Flight International