TEL AVIV (Jun. 8)
A prototype of the Lavi, Israel’s second-generation jet fighter plane, broke the sound barrier for the first time Sunday during its 49th test flight. But the question remains whether the Lavi would be able to break the economic-political barrier that has put its future in jeopardy.
Menachem Shmul, chief test pilot for Israel Aviation Industries (IAI), went “supersonic” with one of the two extant prototypes. Until now he put the aircraft through its paces at subsonic speeds. He reported that in each test flight, the plane outperformed its ground simulator.
Shmul wrote in the current edition of the IDF Journal that 1,800 test flights will be performed with five prototypes before the Lavi is put into production.
It may never get that far. Senior Israel Defense Force officers have complained that the Lavi is diverting funds from other badly needed weapons systems. The Cabinet debated the project for the third time Sunday, but reached no decision.
Maariv quoted Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin Monday as saying that “Even if a Cabinet majority decides to continue the project under current conditions, I will not be able to carry out the decision.” He added, “I will not allow the Lavi to destroy the IDF.”
Israel has been under severe pressure from the U.S. for the past year to abandon the Lavi project because of excessive costs, and instead buy the American-made advanced F-16 jets which are less expensive and already incorporated into the Israel Air Force.