TELAVIV (Jul. 21)
A prototype of the Lavi, Israel’s second generation jet fighter plane, will be unveiled at Ben Gurion Airport Monday night in the presence of President Chaim Herzog, Premier Shimon Peres and his Cabinet, and 2,000 invited guests including five U.S. Congressmen and a U.S. Air Force delegation.
But no official representative of the Reagan Administration has been authorized to attend the ceremonies, indicating, according to observers, that the Pentagon, which opposes the Lavi on grounds of excessive costs, has succeeded in rallying other branches of the Administration to its views.
The Lavi is largely financed by the U.S. and incorporates American-made components, including engines. But many ranking U.S. officials and a number of Israeli officials, including senior Israel Defense Force officers, believe the plane is too costly to produce, especially as it will be obsolete by the 1990’s. There has been considerable pressure from the U.S. in recent months to abandon the project.
But the cabinet continues to back the Lavi. The sleek white-painted aircraft with a blue Star of David on its tail will be rolled out of the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) hanger at Ben Gurion Airport. It has been labeled prototype No. 2. Prototype No. I is being prepared by IAI for its first test flight, scheduled late in September.
Aviation sources say it might be delayed because of problems with the Pratt and Whitney PW-1120 engine specially designed for the Lavi. The engine was scheduled to be air-tested last week in a U.S.-made Phantom jet. But problems developed with its telemetry (tracking) system and the test was postponed.
VIEWED AS THE FINEST AIRCRAFT OF ITS TYPE
Backers of the Lavi are enthusiastic. They claim it will be the finest aircraft of its type in the world, tailor-made for the Israel Air Force but sufficiently versatile to be an important export item. The enthusiasts include the group of five Congressmen headed by Rep. Mel Levine (D. Calif.), who were influential in securing funding for the Lavi.
Peres attended a dress rehearsal for Monday night’s unveiling and addressed some 10,000 IAI workers whose jobs depend on whether the Lavi goes on the production line.
“I think it’s a plane which fits the special requirements of our Air Force,” Peres said. “I think, technically, it is a superb achievement. I think only five or six countries all over the world are capable of building this sort of plane.” He added, “If it is successful, as I hope, it can become an export item in the future as well.”
Asked if export might be difficult because special permission from the U.S. may be required for its sale abroad, Peres waxed philosophical. “Everything is difficult. Life is difficult. Export is difficult. But I don’t see any alternative,” he said.