TEL AVIV (Jan. 27)
Israel’s second generation jet fighter plane, the Lavie, may never fly. Although Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), its manufacturer, promises a prototype will be ready for test flights by the end of the year, the multibillion dollar project could be grounded for budgetary reasons.
Hirsch Goodman, The Jerusalem Post’s defense correspondent, says opposition to the Lavie is growing as politicans and planners examine the Israel Defense Force’s proposed development program for the period 1985-1990.
While the Air Force must keep pace with the rapidly growing air forces of the Arab confrontation states, it could be better served by purchasing sophisticated aircraft abroad at less cost than the homebuilt Lavie. This is the opinion of many senior Air Force officers.
IAI must sell at least 300 Lavies to the Air Force in order to break even. But cuts in the defense budget have reduced prospects for orders anywhere near that number. Over $1 billion has already been spent by IAI on research and development.
Most of the money has been provided in the form of special grants from the U.S. But U.S. military aid to all recipient countries including Israel must be cut this year to stay within the limits of the new Gramm-Rudman law.
The Lavie still has powerful supporters, notably Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Levy, and Likud Minister Moshe Arens. The latter, an aeronautical engineer by training, was one of the originators of the Lavie project. The plane is supposed to replace Israel’s first generation jet fighter, the Kfir, built in the seventies. Some military observers suggest that supporters of the Lavie are insisting the project be carried through for reasons of prestige rather than military value.