F-35 - take it or leave it
Just imagine Israel's position today had the Lavi fighter jet project not
By Moshe Arens Op Ed in Haaretz Published 03:29 27.07.10
Who would have believed it? Some years ago Israel was developing the world's
most advanced fighter aircraft, the Lavi, while the Western world's aircraft
manufacturers were beating their way to our door, eager to participate in
the Lavi project, or trying to sell their competing plane to the Israel Air
Force. And now Israel goes hat in hand pleading for a chance to be allowed
to acquire the F-35 aircraft, at a price tag of $150 million each. But it's
not only the astronomical price. Israel is told that the F-35 must be taken
as is - no changes or modifications to suit Israel's specific needs, and
absolutely no Israeli systems included. Take it or leave it.
Just imagine Israel's position today had the Lavi project not been canceled.
The IAF would be operating the world's most advanced fighter, upgraded over
the years to incorporate operational experience and newer technology. Much
of Israel's industry would have moved a great step ahead, Israel Aerospace
Industries would have become a leading developer of fighter aircraft, and
most importantly, a number of options would be open to the IAF in choosing
its next fighter.
What were the outlandish claims trumpeted by the opponents of the Lavi? The
project, they said, was too big for Israel. These narrow-minded skeptics had
not believed that we could convince the U.S. Congress to fund most of the
project, and certainly were incapable of foreseeing Israel's economic growth
in the years to come. Now they are staring at a $3 billion price tag for 20
F-35s. They said Israel should not be developing military platforms but only
accessory systems to be mounted on the platforms. Now Israel will not be
allowed to mount Israeli systems on the F-35.
And where would we be today if we had believed that nonsense about not
developing platforms? Out of the satellite-launching and
unmanned-aerial-vehicle business. Where are they today, the people who at
the time foolishly led the crusade against the Lavi? Surprisingly, 23 years
later, some are still involved in decision-making on national security. They
were against the development of the Lavi, against the development of an
Israeli reconnaissance satellite, and against the development of the Arrow
ballistic missile interceptor. But unfazed, they continue on.
Do they admit they were mistaken? Admitting past mistakes is a rare human
quality, but there are exceptions. Dan Halutz, a fighter pilot ace and
former IAF commander and chief of staff, at the time like many senior IAF
officers a supporter of the cancellation of the Lavi project, recognizes in
his recent book that it was a mistake to cancel the project.
So what's the use of crying over spilled milk? Are there alternatives to
swallowing our pride and shelling out $3 billion for 20 F-35s? (The original
plan had been to acquire 75 aircraft, which would have brought the price
above $11 billion, but that was too expensive. ) Before we make that
commitment, a little intellectual effort should be invested in looking at
Does Israel still have the technological capability to design a first-rate
fighter aircraft? That needs to be examined in some depth. No doubt some of
the capability that existed at the time of the Lavi project has been lost
over the years, but as has been proved time and again, Israel has a
world-class technological capability. Its success in unmanned aerial
vehicles is only one of a number of examples.
If it turns out that the capability to design the IAF's next fighter
aircraft does exist in Israel, where could we go from there? Not to the U.S.
Congress in search of funding, because we would have to remind them that 27
years ago they were fools to invest $1 billion in the development of the
Lavi that Israel decided it did not want. We would have to look for partners
who are prepared to invest resources in such a project, who have the
necessary technological capability, and who are not involved in the F-35
Are there such candidates? In theory, yes. France, with a great aeronautical
industry, chose not to participate in the F-35 project. India, with a
considerable aeronautical capability and a meteorically growing economy,
might be another candidate. And there is Russia. Perhaps none of them would
be interested, and perhaps all of them would be. It's worth a try.