In the 1970’s, the Israeli Aerial Industries developed the “Lavi”, an advanced Israeli fighter jet. Economic and political considerations caused the program to stay on paper, but one can still find some systems and ideas in the IAF today, that originated from the “Lavi” program. Maj. Gen. (Res.) David Ivry, former IAF Commander, tells us about the jet that was a technological and Zionist ideal
The Israeli Aerial Industries aspired to develop an Israeli fighter jet, with the first step being the improvement of the “Mirage” and later production of the “Kfir”, which gave it the confidence to take the first step in the development of a fighter jet.
In the mid-seventies, the Israeli Aerial Industries attempted to cooperate with a number of countries in the development of the “Aryeh”, a dual-engine fighter, an attempt which proved unsuccessful. In the meantime, the IAF was in the midst of developing a long-range program focused on the acquisition of a fighter jet to replace the F-4 “Phantom” and the A-4 “Skyhawk”.
“We held a discussion in which we marked the upgrading of the ‘Kfir’ or the acquisition of the F-18 “Hornet” as our best options, but to our surprise, IAI personnel were also invited to the same discussion”, shared Maj. Gen. (Res.) David Ivry. “In the discussion, the Industries presented advanced programs for a fighter jet called ‘Layout 33′ that later became the ‘Lavi’”.
“A stronger Engine”
While the IAI labored over a light aircraft with limited carry ability, the IAF requested a significant change. “We examined ‘Layout 33′ and concluded that it was too light for our needs. At the time, I was busy with the preparations for the attack of the Iraqi Nuclear Reactor (Operation ‘Opera’, June 1981) and one of the things that I had noticed was that our aircraft didn’t have enough fuel to perform long-distance flights. The solution we arrived at was a larger jet with a stronger engine”, remembered Maj. Gen. (Res.) Ivry. The Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, sided with the IAF’s operational demand. This demand, we now know, was the beginning of the end of the “Lavi” project.
The atmosphere in IDF HQ, was less than sympathetic toward the project and sided with its cancellation and use of the American funds for different developments. But the “Lavi” was no longer an idea:, three prototypes had been built and three more were in production. Maj. Gen. (Res.) Ivry had already flown one of the prototypes and all of the tests run on the project were successful. “The jet was very good. It had many avionic systems that are considered standard today, but were the first in the world back then, such as alert radar that gave you an all-around view, HUD and many others”.
On August 30, 1987, the government voted on the cancellation or continuation of the project as a result of a demand for additional funds. 11 out of 12 votes called for the cancellation of the project. “I was against closing the project. One of my largest challenges were my conversations with the late Yitzhak Rabin, when he was Minister of Defense, I told him that maybe it would be better for me to step down from my position as Director General of the Ministry of Defense, because as someone who was in favor of the ‘Lavi’ – I now had to close it”, Ivry continued.
Not for Nothing
The cancellation of the “Lavi” project wasn’t the end of the jet. The tremendous financial investment in the project resulted in dozens of professional laboratories and development and computer systems.
Maj. Gen. (Res.) Ivry: “It was and still is one of the Israeli Security Industries’ most tremendous achievements, despite its cancellation. The ‘Lavi’s contribution as an avionic weapons system were later understood and integrated into the third and fourth generation fighters”.