TEL AVIV (Jul. 15)
Air Force Commander Gen. Amos Lapidot warned today that “painful” cuts in the defense budget could “in the long run lead to a weakened Air Force with lower standards.”
Speaking to reporters in advance of Air Force Day which will be observed on Thursday, Lapidot said that cuts in the Israel Defense Force budget have already resulted in the grounding of some aircraft and pilots and reduced air time for training and other routine flights.
At the same time, Arab air forces are growing in size and improving in quality, especially the Syrian air force, Lapidot said. He said increased professional contacts and joint training exercises between Arab and Western air forces resulted in a marked improvement in the training, battle tactics and operational techniques of Arab pilots. “And this cannot be good for us,” the general added.
Lapidot was concerned for the future of the Lavie, Israel’s second generation jet fighter-bomber. He said he did not oppose a review of the project for economic reasons. But its cancellation would have very serious effects on the Air Force and on the country’s high technology and precision industries which would be kept fully employed during the building of the Israel-designed plane.
As it is, Lapidot said, plans to build the American jet engines which will power the Lavie in Israel, under a licensing agreement with the American manufacturer, probably will have to be scrapped. He said this was due to financial problems at the Bet Shemesh engine factory. The Lavie’s engines will instead be purchased in the U.S.