28 years ago, the Israeli government decided to terminate the “Lavi” project. Will we ever witness Ezer Weizman’s Zionist dream coming true?
Some of you must remember the ambitious project for creating a blue & white aircraft against all odds. Exactly 28 years have passed since the Israeli government decided, by a single vote, to terminate the “Lavi” project. Despite the potential benefits a project of this kind can provide, such as advancement of the Israeli defense industry, adjusting the platforms to fit the local area and extending Israel’s technological independence, the idea of producing an Israeli aircraft was never realized.
But is manufacturing an Israeli aircraft is even worthwhile for the state of Israel? “It all begins with money”, determines Dr. Shmuel Even, a senior researcher in the INSS (Institute for National Security Studies) and an economics & security expert. “In the technological aspect, Israel definitely possesses the knowledge and capacity to produce an aircraft. But what tilts the balance is the economic considerations which indicate that the project was not economically viable from beginning to end”.
Since the cessation of the “Lavi” project in 1987, changes in Israel’s foreign relations have further reduced the worthwhileness of developing a manned Israeli plane. “When the project was first initiated, we didn’t have American assistance of the same scale we have today”, explains Dr. Even. “In recent decades there have been significant changes in Israel’s defense methods, which today bases largely on American assistance expressed not just by money, but chiefly by providing and selling aircraft and weapons”.
Relying on American production is not the only reason that the development of unmanned fighter jet is not economical for Israel. “Even if we do manufacture a plane of our own, we would still be significantly dependent on the Americans: Many external parts such as metals and electronic components are still being imported from the US.”, clarifies Dr. Even. “Manufacturing an Israeli plane would definitely benefit the Israeli work market, but the odds of selling large quantities of the plane are pretty low due to tough competition with American industries”.
“The viability is dependent on the export capabilities”
So perhaps the production of an Israeli-made plane will remain impractical in the coming years, but Israel is still a leading country in developing arms and technological systems, and is also running a prosperous UAV (Unmanned aerial vehicle) industry. Israel has also sent two satellites into space – “Ofek” and “Amos”. “Besides answering the needs of the IDF, the economic value of such projects is the ability to export them”, adds Dr. Even. “Every successful Israeli project is either founded by the Americans or exported abroad”.
The “Lavi” project had a considerable effect on Israel’s technological infrastructure, and many following projects were improved thanks to the knowledge and experience that were gained during the “Levi” project. “Producing something as big as an aircraft was perhaps too ambitious for a state as small as Israel, which has limited resources. We don’t even have an Israeli car market, and when it comes to planes, the things get much more complicated. Today the aim is to take planes from foreign manufacturers, and equip them with Israeli components to match the local operational needs”, stresses Dt. Even. “In spite of the contribution to Israel’s technological capabilities and its national pride, there is no logical reason to develop an Israeli fighter jet today. Nonetheless, the strategy taking place today – the manufacturing of arms, ancillary equipment and UAVs which reflects the high capabilities of Israel’s defense industries – is highly efficient”.