By John W. Golan, Tablet Magazine
31 years ago, in 1987, an Israeli cabinet voted to terminate Israel’s Lavi fighter program. The ripple effects of its cancellation continue to this day. Israel’s leadership had placed a renewed emphasis on the development of an indigenous Israeli arms industry after the 1967 Six-Day War when Israel’s traditional arms suppliers in Europe halted the flow of weapons and there was no “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel. There were subsequent delays and suspensions in U.S. arms deliveries, such as in 1975 when the U.S. suspended the delivery of jet warplanes to Israel as a pressure tactic during negotiations for Israel’s withdrawal from western Sinai – the first of many such incidents.
Foremost among the realities that Israeli war planners have long had to address has been Israel’s lack of strategic depth – in both territory and manpower. This bitter reality has meant that Israel’s military doctrine has of necessity come to emphasize offensive tactics: carrying the war to the enemy and away from Israel’s population centers as quickly as possible.
Israel has been the first foreign customer to take delivery of the U.S.’ new F-35. But to meet its unique requirements, the IDF has reportedly prioritized the purchase of 20-25 additional, non-stealthy F-15I fighter-bombers to overcome the payload and range limitations of the F-35. According to published reports, Israeli attempts to integrate conforming fuel tanks into the F-35 to extend its range have been met with resistance by the U.S. developers. This has been compounded by a refusal to allow Israel to fully integrate an Israeli avionics suite into the new airplane that includes electronic countermeasures to shield it from surface-to-air missiles.
The writer has served as a designer, structures analyst, and engineering manager within the U.S. aerospace industry for the past two decades.