Lavi: Lion of the skies
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 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. Having to fight continuous wars against a collection of super-funded enemies has forced the Israelis to push technology to hyper dimensions. Each time an Israeli pilot flies into combat, he must be prepared to face a mix of every advanced weapon supplied by every possible country, both friendly and hostile.
The Soviets supply Syria, Iraq, Libya, Jordan and Egypt with the most advanced aircraft and missiles available. Each of these weapons systems have their own defense and attack mechanisms that must be defeated by Israeli pilots.
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 F-15 are superb aircraft, they are exactly what Israel will have to fight one-on-one. The Lavi will give the Israelis a real advantage, unknown to their enemies.
The controversy is forming up with the same profile as President Reagan’s SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative). There has been a hue and cry from those academics with a pacifist view that the U.S. cannot morally go beyond what is already known, or buttoned down technology. Regretfully, advanced thinkers have always had to wade through the naysayers. As the forward thinkers stride along to new frontiers, the draggers latch on and apply the theorem of dead weight. In order to accomplish new things, one must wade through a sea of protests. Later, after the work is done and the breakthrough made, these naysayers seem to appear magically on the podium to take a smiling bow.
Moshe Arens (Israel’s former Minister of Defense), an aeronautical engineer from M.I.T., has a vision of a plane that will be ultimately swift, carry a sizable weight of missiles and bombs, plus utilize the most sophisticated electronics to defeat all challengers. There are many who fear he will succeed.
The Israeli Merkava tank, which knocked out the most vaunted Russian T-72 tank, was also subjected to plans for scuttling. With Israeli designed munitions fired from the Merkava, the Russian T-72 which has intimidated the U.S. and all of NATO, was penetrated and killed. Major General Israel Tal, the master-mind behind this remarkable tank, had to battle at every juncture for his designs. The naysayers had a field day, but General Tal ignored those nipping at his heels and carried through. 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.
Arens, father of the Lavi, also views the future need for, not merely a high performance aircraft, but one that can take on the entire collective air forces of the many Arab nations who declare nothing less than the total elimination of the State of Israel. Unfortunately, like Reagan’s SDI, (Star Wars) and General Tal with the Merkava, Moshe Arens will also have to carry on his back all the incompetents, the short-sighted and those who simply cannot stand the idea of Israel developing an air-superiority aircraft, beyond what exists in the world today.
When an Israeli pilot is on reconnaissance or combat missions, his aircraft must literally be a flying computerized laboratory. Each signal he receives must be instantly analyzed as to whether it’s a friend or foe . . . and what kind of “thing” is coming at him. Once decided and catalogued, he must quickly select a series of electronic jamming frequencies and start avoidance maneuvers . . . all within a split second. Often the devices attacking him can be a mix of weapons from different countries coming at the same time. To further complicate the danger, many of these weapons come from Israel’s sole source of supply — the United States.
When the U.S. sells F-15 airplanes or Maverick missiles to the Saudis, they explain to the Saudis every attack or defense feature . . . even supplying them with superior techniques and hardware developed by the Israelis in actual combat. Israel often finds itself in the peculiar situation of fighting an enemy who has been given the answers it did not have in the previous war but were solved by the Israelis.
During the Lebanese conflict Israel astonished the U.S. military, all of NATO and the Russians, by knocking down over 100 Syrian/Russian MIG fighter planes and destroying sophisticated Russian missile batteries without losing a single plane. The U.S. military was clearly anxious to find out how, why and all the wherefores. These answers were of such magnitude that the survival of NATO against the Soviet Union and all the Soviet Bloc countries may very well depend upon the Israelis’ electronic developments.
The Israelis were initially reluctant to provide the details for fear they would be promptly incorporated into the weapons which the Arabs were buying. U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger applied extraordinary pressure against Israel to secure those answers. With great reluctance, Israel shared its hard-won technology. While the U.S. could withstand the loss of its expensive technology through Soviet espionage, the small country of Israel, surrounded by 160 million hostile Arabs, could hardly be that casual. But the U.S. is Israel’s sole source of outside military supply, so the precious information was released. (Caspar Weinberger refused to sign an agreement that stated the U.S. would not transfer this information to the Arabs.)
Now, something new is happening to keep Israel’s technological edge of superiority from becoming too formidable. Although the U.S. promised to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge, there has been a growing anti-Lavi lobby. It is led by Caspar Weinberger, but also includes Jews who have been persuaded that Israel would be better off spending its resources on current technology, such as the F-16 and F-15.
In the meantime, the Lavi’s detractors are making common cause.
Caspar Weinberger, no special friend of Israel, is gathering an impressive array of unlikely allies. Each faction thinks he has a reason for pulling the plug. Sadly, there is one aspect of termination that has not been discussed. Although some of those favoring termination have a pretty good idea of what effects will be forthcoming . . . regardless of the outstanding potential of this new aircraft.
The crux of the matter is this: If this project is scrapped, it will be labeled by its detractors as a failure. In addition, they will point out that this weapons platform was a waste of the billions of dollars already spent for R & D and the 2 flyable prototypes. They will claim that Israel is not capable of developing an important weapons system and will make certain that Israel will not “ever” be provided with the funds for any new technology of a serious magnitude.
Those who want Israel to fail will push for this result. Those who are merely marginally stupid, but presume themselves knowledgeable of what’s best for Israel, will suck their thumbs and looked surprised when the full impact of their naïve meddling becomes clear.
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 all look (now) at the Lavi as something that can be cancelled, with each receiving a portion of the unspent money.
Regretfully, 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 will have a far greater negative impact against U.S. funding for each of their individual special projects.