Ovadia Harari has come a considerable distance in the decade since the Israeli Government dumped the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI)Lavi fighter project. Then project manager on the Lavi, Harari is now general manager of IAI's military aircraft group.

Both Harari and IAIhave moved on since the decision was taken to scrap the Lavi project. Despite the lack of its own fighter programme, IAI has found new types of military-aircraft work, and sales are booming. Since the end of 1994, Harari has been helping to lead the search for new work in upgrades and unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), in his role as general manager and corporate vice-president.

The group now employs around 1,600 people at its Lahav aircraft upgrade division, the Malat UAV plant and the Mata helicopter-maintenance unit. Sales totalled $270 million in 1996, but are expected to climb towards $400 million this year.

Upgrading fighters remains a primary target. The market, suggests Harari, remains promising, with recent work on the Northrop F-5 for the Chilean air force and the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom for the Israeli air force, as well a $600 million contract to upgrade 54 Turkish air force F-4s, now under way at Lahav.

"We think that there is still much work on these types of fighters, but, at the same time, we are preparing for the next class of aircraft," says Harari. That next class for him is the Lockheed Martin F-16 and McDonnell Douglas F-15.

The Israeli air force is a major user of F-16s, and IAI's effort is aimed now at preparing a package to persuade its commanders that it is time for an upgrade on their F-16A/Bs. If it is successful, the work could establish the status of the group as a design authority for this fighter. "On the F-4 and F-5, we have already gained that status. An upgrade programme for the Israeli air force is therefore essential before we go with the F-16 package to the export market," says Harari, who served in the air force before joining IAIas an aeronautical engineer in 1970.

"With the Israeli air force as the model, the chances are that the upgrade package will be cost-effective," says Harare, pointing to its high operational requirement, but limited budget.

He also points to another advantage. "The USA limits the technology which it is willing to transfer [even to its allies] as part of an upgrading programme. We don't have that limitation," Harari says, citing the examples of the Elta radars offered as part of the package and the Israeli-developed advanced electronic-warfare systems and helmet sights which can be installed in the upgraded fighters.

He believes that the F-5 upgrade work for Chile demonstrates how an upgrade can "-close the gap" between an old fighter and an advanced design. "The F-5 is a relatively small aircraft with a small radar cross-section. Take this advantage and add some systems and you turn it into a very capable fighter," he argues. In 1996, during a combined exercise with US Air Force F-16s, Chilean F-5s with Israeli Python-3 air-to-air missiles and advanced avionics came close to winning, he claims.

Harari sees the enhancement of the pilot's tactical awareness as the next logical step in the upgrade market, although he is not not ready to comment on press reports that Israel recently selected IAI, together with BVR, a small Israeli company, to develop a tactical-awareness system for its air force.

"In the not-so-distant future, we will have to deal with information warfare rather than with electronic warfare. The enemy will try to inject false data into the pilot's information-fusion system, and the side that is most sophisticated will win the battle," he says. Harari also believes that it is possible to give old fighters some degree of stealth, rounding off the upgrade work needed to keep airframes such as the F-15 in service until 2015 or beyond.

While the upgrade business booms, IAI's Malat UAV plant has also been staging a remarkable turnaround, with sales now up to around $100 million.

The business hit a low after a series of accidents with the Hunter system persuaded the US Army to cut its initial contract to only seven units. Harari admits that the cancellation could have been a blow similar in magnitude to that of the Lavi cancellation, but he believes that the USA will realise that most of the accidents were not due to system failure.

UAV sales have since taken off. Switzerland has bought three Ranger systems and France has taken a Hunter for evaluation. Other contracts are still classified.

Harari believes that the UAV is moving in "new directions" with, he thinks, the next logical step being to equip UAVs with synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) to expand what he says is a limited capability to supply real-time intelligence.

Although he is careful not to reveal any specific programmes, he agrees that, in principle, a UAV with an SAR radar will be capable of supplying images with resolution of less than 1m (3ft), when flying over clouds. Malat's latest long-endurance and high-altitude UAV, the Heron, could be a good candidate for this equipment.

Harari goes on to predict that, within the next 20 years, such UAVs will be used to perform precision ground attack as their primary mission, using high-accuracy smart weapons. One manned fighter, he says, will be used to "shepherd" three or four UAVs into a danger zone.

If and when such advanced technology emerges, the Israeli company's military general manager gives the impression that IAI intends to be there.

Source: Flight International