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Lavi’s Future Up in the Air

A prototype of the Lavi, Israel’s second generation jet fighter plane, has undergone two test flights, but its future remains up in the air while Israeli defense experts mull over alternatives proposed by U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Dov Zackheim.

Zackheim spent five days in Israel last week trying to convince its political and military leaders that the Lavi, financed by U.S. grants, is too costly to produce. But according to Brig. Gen Menahem Eini, head of the Lavi project at the Defense Ministry, many of Zackheim’s ideas were less feasible than alternatives Israel has already rejected.

SOME U.S. PROPOSALS TERMED FANTASTIC

In an interview in the Israel Defense Force weekly, Bamachane, Eini was quoted as saying, “We’ve already thought of all the possible alternatives. I can say with certainty that they were numerous and more realistic than Zackheim’s.” While Eini stopped short of accusing the Pentagon official of carelessness, he noted that “they (the Americans) left here a document containing thousands of pages which ought to be studied” but some proposals seemed “a bit fantastic.”

Zackheim urged the Israelis to abandon the Lavi in favor of an already tried and tested aircraft. Many more test flights of the Lavi are necessary to prove its capabilities and several different prototypes are being produced by Israel Aircraft Industries to determine which is best, a lengthy and costly process.

Zackheim proposed as options the F-16 manufactured by General Dynamics, and the F-18, each of which would be produced under license in Israel and modified by the Israelis according to their needs.

U.S. PROPOSALS WOULD DELAY THE PROGRAM

But Eini dismissed the F-18 as a very expensive plane, He said the proposal that Israel buy the F-16 and equip it with Lavi avionic and electronics systems would set the program back three years.

He explained that the modification would require re-designing thousands of components tailor-made for the Lavi, “The designer would have to begin the development from scratch” and between 3,000-4,000 people employed on the Lavi project would lose their jobs, he said.

Zackheim had argued that, on the contrary, modification of American-built planes would ensure steady employment for Israelis in high technology industries.

Another view of the Lavi was expressed by Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amos Lapidot. He said after the plane’s second test flight last week that he liked it but the Air Force could live without it if necessary.

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