America benefits if Israel builds the Lavi
The arrival Monday of Dov Zakheim, spokesman for Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger, has raised a storm of protests in Israel. It is his stated purpose to terminate further development of the Lavi and offer several alternate U.S. aircraft in its place.
Israel has been a showcase of U.S. aircraft and those manufacturers not participating in the Lavi simply do not want to lose Israel as a captive customer of their products and their best “salesman”. Weinberger has clearly been enlisted to pressure Israel into abandoning the Lavi so such corporations as McDonnell Douglas, General Dynamics and Northrup, among others, may continue to enjoy the plus sales (in the billions of dollars) which Israeli performance generates in sales. However, Israel has no participation in those profits gained at the expense of her battlefield experience.
According to highly placed sources in the Israeli defense establishment, these and other American companies have hired prominent Israeli Air Force Reserve Officers to lobby for their interests in selling American jets, which may not fit Israel’s needs in the Mid‑East theatre. These sources attest that these same officers have used their positions to orchestrate a campaign against the Lavi in both the political and military establishment. The public is, of course, confused by this complex wrangling and would be, indeed, angry if this situation turns out to be similar to the influence‑peddling scandal which rocked Japan over the Lockheed purchase.
If the Lavi flies efficiently, (and she had her successful maiden test flight December 31, 1986), some manufacturers will no longer have Israel as the showcase for their planes and auxiliary equipment. There is a substantial concern that Israel will, indeed, turn out a superior group support fighter, which is not only needed in Israel, but will almost fit the NATO requirements to fight off a massive ground assault by the Soviets. Neither NATO nor the U.S. has such a fighter, and will not have a good production model until the mid or late 90s.
Israel could be the West’s technological cutting edge with the Lavi. Many other U.S. industries are already involved making sections of the Lavi to Israeli specifications. One hundred and twenty (120) subcontractors have signed contracts worth over $750,000,000, to date. These U.S. manufacturers are pleased with the cooperation and business relations they have with Israel. It is those who are not involved and do not have a piece of the Lavi action who have pressured Casper Weinberger, the Pentagon, and President Reagan to scuttle the Lavi.
There is the perception in some other branches of Israel’s military that the Lavi is responsible for their budgetary concerns. It is regretful that the U.S. Congress does not vote additional funds to allow the Lavi project to finish and concurrently arm the Israeli ground forces adequately.
The Soviets have no such reservations with their allies. When Syria experienced considerable air and ground losses during the Lebanon War, the Soviets did not hesitate. They moved to replace 100 lost aircraft and many missile batteries with newer equipment.
Meanwhile, in this volatile area when war breaks out, it begins and ends in days. There will be no chance to send in replacements or ammunition. If Israel is “unexpectedly” faced with a combination of several well‑armed Arab armies, the losses will be staggering.
It would be prudent for Congress to push Casper Weinberger and his military manufacturers to one side and vote a sufficient budget to complete the Lavi and also allow Israeli ground and sea forces to equip as necessary.
Increasing military aid to Israel, without some sort of proportionate arms sales to the Arabs, is logical and desirable. The amount required to maximize Israel’s ground and sea forces is minimal when compared with the $80 billion we pay into NATO, plus the 350,000 U.S. soldiers stationed there; and the $40 billion plus half as many soldiers in the Far East.
Israel is the U.S./NATO equivalent in the Middle East rolled up into one country, and represents U.S. interests even better than any of our allies in Europe. Israel’s air umbrella may prove far more valuable than all the untried “potential” of our other various interests in the region which America is trying to coerce and train into a defensive alliance.
The Lavi has broad support on Capitol Hill. A major contingent of U.S. Congressmen came to the Lavi rollout on July 21st. Congressman Jack Kemp spoke glowingly about the mutual benefits for Israel and America from their cooperative efforts to build the Lavi.
Rep. Charles Wilson of Texas said that the Lavi will “help Israel end its dependency on the U.S.” as Israel learns to rely on her own technological infrastructure.
Israel has painstakingly designed an aircraft, the Lavi, specifically for the battle conditions faced in the Middle East, based upon air combat time that unfortunately exceeds the applied experience of the U.S./NATO and the Soviet Union combined. Israel knows precisely what an aircraft must do in order to fulfill the many requirements of that combat arena.
While the F16 and F15 are superb aircraft, they are exactly what Israel will have to fight one‑on‑one, because these are the same planes sold by the U.S. to Israel’s immediate Arab neighbors. Pentagon experts note that the Lavi far surpasses the F16 in air‑to‑ground warfare, giving Israel a real advantage, and the ability to maintain a qualitative edge against the growing superior numbers of enemy aircraft present in the collective opposing air forces. The Lavi has extreme maneuverability. No existing fighter can outrace a locked‑on SAM (Surface to Air Missile), but the Lavi’s unique agility makes it easier to out‑maneuver a missile by veering more sharply than the missile can.
The Lavi also has a higher speed than any current fighter “on the deck”, near the ground. The Lavi can reach 30‑40 knots, about 10%, additional speed over the F16 in ground attack. This is the most important parameter enabling a pilot to attack and survive in missile‑infested areas and in defense against shoulder‑fired missiles, “Strelas”. Therefore, the main advantage of the Lavi for Israel is the edge it provides for saving a pilot’s life. No other attack aircraft has this capability at this time. Like the unique Merkava Tank, crew survivability is a key feature built into the Lavi.
The United States government should overlook parochial interests of private businesses, and encourage development of the best possible technology. Israeli engineers are proceeding to evolve new techniques. They should be allowed to use their considerable ingenuity. America can only benefit from the scientific advances possible as the Israelis continue the research and development necessary for the Lavi’s production.
The Israelis are pouring all known avionic technology into a state‑of‑the‑art aircraft called the Lavi (Lion). In addition, they have gathered their considerable combat experience and have made strenuous demands of their designers and suppliers to exceed the cutting edge of knowledge; in essence, to leapfrog into an aircraft able to win wars in the year 2000 and beyond.
A strong Israel, with capable weapons like the Lavi, can only bring about a stronger Western and American defense posture.