JERUSALEM (Feb. 2)
A Knesset subcommittee recommended yesterday that Israel build its own counterpart of the American F-16 jet fighter, an aircraft for the 1980s that Israel is seeking from the U.S. The subcommittee, headed by Likud MK Yosef Rom, said such a project was of “vital national interest” and “a precondition for political independence and the vitality of Israel’s industry.”
The proposal was presented to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee which will begin deliberations shortly. A heated debate is expected in the Knesset, mainly because the Defense Ministry says it has no budget for such aircraft which would cost an estimated $400 million. Supporters, however, say the funds should come out of the “total resources at the State’s disposal.”
The subcommittee report warned that continued dependence on the import of sophisticated weapons from abroad makes Israel vulnerable to political pressures. “It is essential to take into consideration a situation in which channels for vital arms will be closed for an extended period,” the report said. It assumed that Israel will continue to require highly sophisticated warplanes for many years to come.
IMPROVED VERSION OF KFIR
The projected aircraft would be an improved version of the Israel-made Kfir jet fighter and would be called Arye (Lion). An attempt would be made to duplicate the F-16 which will be in the American arsenal in the 1980s.
Negotiations have been going on with the U.S. for some time for a commitment to provide Israel with F-16s when ready. But they bogged down last year over Israel’s insistence on co-production rights that would permit it to manufacture parts and assemble the American plane at its own plants. The U.S. has balked against granting such rights. The F-16, though representing a new generation of combat aircraft, is less, advanced than the ultra-sophisticated F-15s already in production.
Like the Kfir, the projected Arye will have to be powered by engines manufactured abroad because Israel still does not have the ability to produce such engines. But Israel Aircraft Industries, which designed and built the Kfir, says it is capable of duplicating the F-16 in all other essentials.