If Israel will stand firm, the Lavi will fly
The rumor mills at highest United States government levels crackle with speculation. The legislative assistants of Congressmen and Senators who deal with the Middle East are quite sure that an “understanding” is being offered to the Israel Defense Minister, Yitzchak Rabin, in order to scuttle the Lavi.
Dr. Dov Zakheim, outgoing deputy undersecretary of Defense had the “unsavory task” of using the proverbial carrot and the stick. (Perhaps he was pressured by the American defense contractor, General Dynamics, manufacturer of the F‑16.) Zakheim’s perseverance also planted doubts into the Israeli military and helped sway some Israeli policy makers to advocate a political decision against the production of the Lavi. Israel “would be able” to build what turned out to be only a small part of the F‑16, which General Dynamics wished to sell to Israel. Both arguments were unsuccessfully used in the U.S. Congress to persuade it to withdraw vital support for the Lavi.
Without the aid allocated for the Lavi, U.S. military aid to Israel was $1.4 Billion; the allocation for the Lavi in addition to that, raised the sum to $1.8 Billion. What many Israelis do not understand is that without the Lavi, U.S. military aid may revert to its original allocation, under current budget cutting policies engendered by the Graham‑Rudman Act, prompted by huge U.S. budget deficits.
This was to be Phase One of the battle and, so far, it may have won some points. Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, must be encouraged as he watches the Israeli Ground Forces and Navy fighting against the Israel Aircraft Industries. Each side has expended vital strength influencing the Israeli public, media, and government decision makers that it is correct. In the interim, Dr. Zakheim, who may have been used as a “Jewish” lightning rod to capture the anger which Weinberger generated, has made the timely decision to leave the job for a presumably more lucrative post in private industry.
In U.S. DEFENSE NEWS, April 6, it was reported that he will be replaced by Mr. Dennis Kloske, now assigned to orchestrate the next phase. Kloske holds two other defense related jobs, as Board Chairman of “Arms Cooperation Policies” and Special Advisor for NATO weapons, in addition to being advisor to President Reagan’s counselor, David Abshire. Mr. Kloske does not relinquish his other posts. He simply adds the “Lavi cutback assignment” to his responsibilities under the title “Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and Resource”.
Should Mr. Kloske succeed, it would not be by a quick thrust, but rather by more subtle bureaucratic procedures of constricting funds and facilitating interference with the technological interchange between Israel Aircraft Industries and its American and European sub‑contractors, using the most sophisticated legal maneuvers. We do not know this time what the final sweetener is to be which will ultimately induce Israel’s Defense Minister Rabin to announce that the Lavi must be set aside for the greater national priority.
However, highly placed sources on Capitol Hill claim that there will be a massive U.S. Defense Department attempt to cancel or phase out the Lavi using the pretext of a Weinberger‑inspired blockage of funds, in coordination with those in Israel who do not want the Lavi produced. This development would have the effect of lessening political fallout both in Jerusalem and in the U.S., when the unhappy news is announced. In essence, the Lavi would never be “killed outright” because it would be political suicide for any Israeli politician to make this final “coup de grace”. Instead, it could “wind down” slowly, allowing for the production of just a few instead of the 300 aircraft needed for Israel.
Regretfully, Israel has not yet been negotiating forcefully enough in the struggle to secure U.S. Congressional backing in the face of General Dynamics’ lobbying. Israel’s national resolve seems to have been methodically softened up by a concentrated assault set to undermine American Jewish opinion, Congressional support and Israeli confidence via the Pollard, Napco, Recon, Iran-gate and other scandals, put to boil by middle level U.S. officials and overplayed in the media.
The production of the Lavi, with all of its attendant new industries and tens of thousands of jobs for veteran Israelis, returning Israelis, as well as the new Soviet Jewish immigrants, remains vital to Israel’s national interest, IF she is to compete in the world of high technology and be economically self‑sufficient. If Israel misses this window of opportunity, she will fall back into the same position of her neighbors, that of being merely a purchaser of the high tech, high cost products of the U.S., Japan, and Europe.
It will also be unlikely that Israel will be allowed to start any new major weapons development, using U.S. aid in the foreseeable future. The overpriced “Zakheim” analysis estimate even if inaccurate, would gain permanent standing and credibility. The Lavi would then join such ill‑fated projects as the Med‑Dead Sea Canal.
There are those firms in the United States who would like Israel to continue to serve as the testing ground of U.S. military equipment in order to work out their “bugs”, while also displaying their products in battle. These companies can then go out to the world markets and profit from battle‑tested products with the valuable Israeli “imprimatur”.
Perhaps Israel does not have the funds to produce the Lavi alone. However, if these companies want the benefits of Israel to showcase their weapons systems while improving their function, they should insist upon Israeli co‑production of this equipment. Since the Lavi comprises numerous U.S.‑produced segments designed to Israeli specifications, Israel is in a strong position to negotiate for co‑production with these American firms.
Grumman Aircraft, as one of the key manufacturers of Lavi components, ought to be exceedingly interested in obtaining co‑production rights for a U.S. version of the Lavi, especially since their F‑14 Tomcat production has slowed to almost a standstill, in terms of on‑line production. Although there is a plan to offer a reconstruction of the F‑14 in “open bid”, there is no guarantee that Grumman might get the new contract.
At this time, the matter of co‑production has been discussed favorably in Washington and is merely awaiting the pressure of an outright request by the Israeli government. This request has not been made as yet due to the doubts successfully sown by Weinberger, Zakheim and company.
The situation is quite clear. General Dynamics does not want a reasonably priced ground‑support aircraft in Israel’s inventory that would displace any future sales to Israel of the F‑16. Although the F‑16 is a superb air‑to‑air fighter, the Lavi is 10% faster and more maneuverable in a combat mode. It is, therefore, a much more effective ground support fighter flying at low altitudes in a missile‑infested environment.
Unfortunately, the F‑16 technology was developed in the early 1960s for combat in the 80s, but before missile technology had advanced to the astonishing state‑of‑the‑art to which it has risen since the mid‑70s. The Lavi design, by comparison, was initiated after Israel’s shocking loss of more than 100 aircraft in a matter of days to Soviet missiles in the Yom Kippur War. Israeli designers were determined that their Air Force would never again be denied air space over enemy targets, due to a hostile missile environment.
Although General Dynamics plans to introduce an A‑16 which will be defined as a “Ground Support” aircraft, it will still be merely a modified version of the F‑16, carrying the same design technology established in the ’60s.
The U.S. Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger through the Pentagon has just initiated a $20 million dollar study to evaluate the role of a close ground support aircraft. The Lavi’s performance, along with Israel Aircraft Industries’ secret briefings to Weinberger’s representatives on why and how the Lavi was developed, has apparently forced re‑evaluation of future U.S. plans for its own aircraft development priorities. This evaluation may impact on design plans for a new air superiority, Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) to be rolled out as a working model in the mid‑90s. Although spoken about as a $40 million aircraft, the actual price may range within the $60‑70 million bracket for each aircraft. If, as expected, the Lavi sets a standard for performance both as an air‑to‑ground and air superiority aircraft, at a cost of $17‑20 million in 1995 prices, then perhaps a $70 million dollar craft will suffer by comparison. It is also doubtful that Israel could afford such an expensive aircraft in the future and will have to rely on a then aging and outdated fleet of F‑16s.
The reported costs of the Lavi vs. the F‑16 are confusing at best. Israel has just received delivery of the first 4 aircraft of a prior order for 75 F‑16s, at a total contract cost of $3 billion, which is $40 million per aircraft. This includes all necessary spare parts. Zakheim, in his original proposals for alternatives to the Lavi, used such figures as $14.5 million per each future F‑16, which seems like offering an automobile without tires, engine and seats. Inaccuracy seems to be the name of the game in advancing these figures.
At this time, there is no other aircraft which can approach the mission capabilities of the Lavi both at near ground level and air‑to‑air superiority. The U.S. recognized this need years ago and manufactured the A‑10 for close ground support, but after producing 700 aircraft they determined that it could not survive a missile environment, nor outmaneuver air superiority aircraft. Production of the A‑10 was canceled leaving the U.S. with an unfillable vacuum. An attempt will be made to offer a modified F‑16, called the A‑16, to fill this role. However, at this time and for the foreseeable future, the Lavi is the only aircraft designed, which is based on combat experience that can fill this role.
There is enormous pressure being exerted against the Lavi. It can be expected that U.S. companies which wish to participate in co‑production are experiencing these same threatening pressures as is Israel. It will remain up to Israel’s friends in America, and especially in Washington, to advance counter‑pressures in order to encourage American co‑production for an aircraft that is showing its capability increasingly with each test flight. However, as long as the Israeli Government shows indecisiveness, those U.S. corporations who would step forward and accept co-production, will remain sensibly silent.
Sadly, Israel has the incentive of frequent and quite real wars. Other nations are mostly in the process of preparing, but rarely have to fight. Combat gives Israel the edge in development and deployment of superior weapons in real time. This edge is almost always shared with its ally, the United States, allowing Israeli‑discovered solutions to also be shared with NATO. It is time for the U.S. and NATO to publicly acknowledge these vital solutions, making Israel the full-fledged partner which she has earned.