Published on 01/01/1987 | by Emanuel Winston | Archived in: Lavi


High-Tech Chutzpah

Published in Midstream: A Monthly Jewish Review - Vol.XXXIII, No. 1

On July 21, 1986, the Lavi fighter jet, a product of Israel Aircraft Industries, was “rolled out” to an enthusiastic reception of 2,000 invited guests. The crowd included Israeli dignitaries of all kinds, as well as some special American friends of Israel — a Congressional delegation led by presidential aspirant, Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, and representatives of those American aircraft industries that have played a vital role in the development of the Lavi, through the participation of 120 U.S. subcontractors.

Israel conceived the idea of developing its own super fighter after the sudden 1967 French embargo on all weapons sales to Israel, at a time when France was Israel’s primary arms supplier. “From that point on,” said Benjamin Peled, a former air force commander, “it was decided that Israel, for its own survival, must be able to produce on its own, at least one tank, one naval vessel, one missile from each family, and one fighter plane.”

The Lavi roll-out comes at a time of increasing controversy over its costs and benefits. According to The New York Times, the Pentagon is involved in an attempt to “quietly shoot down the 300 Lavi advanced fighter jets that Israel is proposing to build.” Besides the cost of the Lavi to U.S. taxpayers, who contribute substantially to Israel’s military budget, some American defense firms, who stand to lose Israel as a customer of their aircraft, have been viciously attacking the Lavi project.

According to a highly places source in the Israeli Defense establishment, some American aircraft companies such as McDonnel-Douglas and Northrup have hired prominent Israeli Reserve Air Force officers to represent their interests in selling American jets to Israel. This source attests that these same officers have used their positions to orchestrate an Israeli campaign against the Lavi.

Israel’s Ministry of Defense has some tough decisions to make. Its budget has been cut and each section of its military is fighting for survival funds. They may view the Lavi as something that can be canceled, with each receiving a portion of the unspent money, though the amount left to divide up is really insignificant and will not affect their budget dramatically. But the failure to complete and manufacture the Lavi would have a major impact upon future U.S. funding for each of their individual projects.

If the Lavi project is scrapped, it will be labeled by its detractors as a failure: they will point out that this weapons platform was a waste of the billions of dollars already spent for R & D and two flyable prototypes. They will speciously claim that Israel is not capable of developing an important weapons system and may make certain that Israel will not “ever” be provided with the funds for any new technology of a serious magnitude.

But something more serious may be developing to keep Israel’s technological edge of superiority from becoming “too formidable.”

Neither the Europeans nor the United States has a superfighter, although it is currently being worked on: the Lavi may be viewed as an “undesirable” competitor.

The United States government should overlook the parochial interests of private businesses and encourage development of the best possible technology. And Israeli engineers should be allowed to use their ingenuity.

The Israelis are pouring all known avionic technology into the state-of-the-art Lavi. They have gathered their considerable combat experience and made strenuous demands on their designers and suppliers, to exceed the cutting edge of knowledge and produce an aircraft able to win wars in the year 2000 and beyond.

Each time an Israeli fighter pilot flies into combat, he must be prepared to face a mix of sophisticated weapons. The Soviets have supplied Syria, Iraq, Libya, Jordan and Egypt with the most advanced aircraft and missiles available. Each of these weapons systems has its own defense and attack mechanisms must be defeated by Israeli pilots. Moreover, the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Brazil, Czechoslovakia and others, each have a complete line of ultra-modern weaponry that they also sell to Israel’s enemies. While the F-16 and the F-15 are superb aircraft, they are exactly what Israel will have to fight one-on-one. Pentagon experts note that the Lavi far surpasses the F-16 in air-to-ground warfare, giving the Israelis a real advantage.

In many defense areas, Israel has displayed a technological prowess far out of proportion to its size and national wealth. It has created its own small arms like the Uzi submachine gun, the Gabriel surface-to-surface missile, sophisticated electronic jamming equipment, and remote-controlled, television-camera-equipped drone aircraft for reconnaissance. Israel has more recently created a totally new heavy tank called the Merkava (chariot). This tank has proven superior to any produced by the superpowers, especially in protecting its crew.

Major General Israel Tal, the mastermind behind this remarkable tank, had to battle at every juncture for his designs. However, when the Israel-designed munitions were fired from the Merkava, the Russian T-72, which had intimidated the U.S. and all of NATO, was penetrated and killed. Today Israel has a 60-ton fighting tank that meets and beats the competition. Here, too, it was the unprecedented release of American funds for the R & D, that allowed this vital project to be completed.

The Lavi, however, may surpass even these attainments. At least 4,000 Israelis owe their jobs to it. About 120 U.S. subcontractors, employing many thousands more, are working on Lavi systems.

Shimon Peres, as Prime Minister, defended the cost of the Lavi, calling the project Israel’s equivalent to the American space program, a means to advance Israeli technology in leaps and bounds in coming years. An Israel Aircraft Industries official recently told The New York Times that the U.S. defense industry may fear Israel’s Lavi project because Israel can build a front-line fighter much more cheaply than the Americans can.

An even stronger argument for the Lavi, from an American perspective, was put forward at the roll-out ceremony by Rep. Charles Wilson, Democrat of Texas. Wilson said the Lavi will help Israel outgrow its dependency on the U.S. as Israel learns to rely on its own high-tech infrastructure.

While the Lavi has broad support on Capitol Hill, it has considerably fewer friends at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger at first blocked the technology transfer licenses required by the American companies bidding for Lavi contracts. Without these licenses, the composite wings, the engine and the fly-by-wire system could not have been sold to Israel. On April 13, 1983, Israel’s then Secretary of Defense, Moshe Arens, called Secretary of State George Shultz to ask for his help. Within 48 hours, the licenses were approved. Just how this came about hasn’t been revealed, but Israeli officials assume the President broke the impasse. That could make Ronald Reagan one of the most important figures in the birth of the Lavi. Many Israeli officials conjecture that Secretary Weinberger has set out to undermine Presidential and State Department support of Israel as a strategic ally. The intense lobby of U.S. aircraft industries interested in selling more (and more expensive) F-16s and F-15s to Israel may have played into Weinberger’s hands in wanting to keep Israel on par with Arab nations, rather than a step ahead of them.

When the Pentagon was forced to approve the technology transfers, it rejected, as a blocking technique, Israeli cost figures. In May, 1985 a team of experts led by Dov Zackheim, a U.S. Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense, went to Tel Aviv to work up its own cost profile on the Lavi. In January, 1986 Zackheim’s team returned to Tel Aviv to present its results. According to one source, the American said that development costs had been underestimated by at least 15 percent, and that the price per aircraft, as delivered to the Israeli Air Force, would be at least $22 million — half again as much as the original figure of $14.5 million per plane. Israel is currently spending over $30 million per F-16.

The Zackheim report remains secret, at Israel’s request. Israel feels the report was unfair in many ways. For example, labor costs were incorrectly figured at $47 per hour, an American engineer’s salary, rather than at more realistic $24, the maximum Israeli salary for engineers — thereby adding $2 million in false costs to each Lavi. Zackheim, now called by Arens, the number one enemy of the Lavi, apparently neglected to take into account that the Israeli aircraft industries operate on a shoestring budget; they have already proven cost-effective in developing and manufacturing the Westwind and Astra business jets, and the Kfir jet fighter now being used by the U.S. Navy.

In Israel, as in the U.S., the Lavi’s proponents can prove that it will function much more effectively than the F-16 for Israel’s theatre of battle, and that it is worth the investment.

Moshe Arens (a graduate of MIT) is called the father of the Lavi. He anticipates the need for not merely a high-performance aircraft but one that can take on the collective air forces of the many Arab nations, whose armaments, acquired from both the East and the West, now out-number Israel’s by an alarming ratio.

When an Israeli pilot is on reconnaissance or combat missions, his aircraft must literally be a flying computerized laboratory. Each signal of an alien presence he receives must be instantly analyzed. Once a determination is made, he must, within split seconds, select a series of electronic jamming frequencies and start avoidance maneuvers. Often the devices attacking him are a mix of weapons from different countries, including Israel’s sole source of supply — the United States.

During the Lebanese conflict, Israel astounded the U.S., NATO and the Russians by knocking down over 100 Syrian/Russian MIGs and destroying sophisticated Russian missile batteries, while losing only one plane. The U.S. military was clearly anxious to find out all the whys and wherefores of Israel’s Electronic Counter Measures (ECM). Of the Lavi’s home-grown components, none is more important than the “dominant sensor” or “avionic box,” its radar for searching, tracking and target identification.

In the first days of the Yom Kippur War, Israel came close to its first — and what would probably have been its final — defeat. Out of this near calamity arose the concept of a fighter-bomber “prioritized” for surviving the missile threat. The Lavi has superior maneuverability. While no existing fighter can outrace a locked-on SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile), the Lavi’s agility makes it easier to outmaneuver the missile by veering more sharply than a missile can.

Today Syria is the only non-Warsaw Pact nation to possess the latest and deadliest Soviet SAMs, whose long-range accuracy poses an immediate threat to Israel’s aircraft and its civilian population.

The Soviets, having experienced an unprecedented defeat of their aircraft and SAMs, are throwing every advanced weapons system they have into Syria in order to avoid a repeat of the debacle in Lebanon. Russia has an enormous investment in the equipment it has developed. If Israel defeats the best Soviet technology, their clients the world over will not purchase Soviet arms, resulting in a serious decline in Russia’s leading dollar-generating industry. Israel has proven itself the best salesman for American military technology, usually with Israeli modifications, as it is forced to “test” such machinery under battle conditions every few years. As a result of Israel’s “showcasing” these systems in real combat, U.S. weapons manufacture has generated profits in the billions in foreign sales.

On the day of the Lavi roll-out, then Israel Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin solemnly told an International Tribune correspondent that, judging from Syria’s preparations, the question of an impending war between Israel and Syria “remains a matter of when and not whether.”

Ironically, the Prime Minister was mysteriously absent from the Lavi ceremony. As his speech was being read at the roll-out, Peres was participating in a peace mission to Morocco. Appropriately, Jack Kemp declared that “my deepest wish is that this magnificent aircraft will never have to be used in combat.” As the Lavi rolled onto the field, the Israeli Air Force orchestra played the popular Israeli peace song, Oseh Shalom.

Some might describe the understandable Israeli obsession with the Lavi as a kind of crucial “high-tech chutzpah,” something Israel must have to survive.

About the Author



Manny Winston, my late husband, flew from Chicago to Israel to volunteer during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. He arrived with US secretary of state Henry Kissinger’s first ceasefire on October 21; I followed on October 30th.

Manny was picking grapefruit at Kibbutz Dalia when his friend, the artists, Sol Baskin called with a permit to enter the war zone. They drove to meet Gen. Ariel “Arik” Sharon at the Suez Canal. “Shalom” Baskin was part of the Mahal volunteers from America to the IDF, and a commissioned officer in Mahal. He was Arik’s commanding officer during the 1948 War of Independence, and they remained friends.

Manny brought his two Leica cameras and photographed an outstanding photo exposé on October 29 and 30. He saw and smelled the “killing fields” He met with Sharon, the young soldiers who had survived the destroyed tanks and he saw how the blown tank turret, flipped upside down destroyed the lives of those brave souls inside.

Manny did see these effects and, because he was a true Renaissance man, a graphic thinker who was a painter, sculptor and political analyst, he envisioned a solution to the weak point of the tank. He described a technique to conquer that weakness to Sharon, who sent him to Maj.-Gen. Israel Tal, the developer of the famed Merkava tank.

Manny’s “leap of imagination” created what became “Blazer” or “Reactive” Armor. He designed rectangles of hollow metal boxes with an explosive charge inside. These ‘so-called’ “skirts” were placed around the neck of the tank turret so that when hit, the explosive charge therein would push the incoming ballistic missile out, thereby saving the tank and its crew. This was compatible with the primary goal of Gen. Tal’s Merkava tanks: Defense of the Tank Crew.

That, along with speed, maneuverability, effective shooting and protection against damaging desert sand, were what made the Merkava “The Tank a Jewish Mother Would Love,” as Manny called it.

He also designed a better bridge for crossing the Canal – easier to carry and assemble, and less susceptible to the huge holes the tanks had already created on the day’s existing bridge.

Manny continued to submit creative concepts for defense and offense to Israel’s military industries – for which he received his Israeli citizenship and security clearance. Many of his concepts and ideas were adopted throughout the years. He never asked for credit or remuneration but even today, I see his concepts being used, either in action or in military articles. Someday I hope to publish the “WINSTON DEFENSE DESIGNS,” either online or in a book – a very big book, with his original drawings.

The Yom Kippur War was a seminal turning point in Israel’s history. We did win. It was a miracle, given the forces mounted against us, in number and backed up the Soviet Union.

We have 40 mounted color photographs by Emanuel A. Winston, ready to show at a traveling or permanent exhibition, which will enhance our appreciation of what our men and generals went through and achieved.

The Yom Kippur War was also a seminal turning point in the lives of the Winston family. It was our second trip to Israel. We had tried to make Aliyah in 1962 but didn’t succeed. I made Aliyah on November 7, 1979. Manny died on June 12, 2012, and is now buried on the Mount of Olives.

I sold the home he built in Highland Park, Illinois, in August 2012, and brought his manuscripts and published papers, to the home I built in Israel in 1992. Two of our sons and their families also live in the Jewish state.

My heartfelt message for you, the reader, is to invite all my friends, family and Internet friends to come to Israel. This is where a Jew can be truly Jewish.

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