From a small country bullied by its neighbors, Israel has risen to become a powerful military force in the region.
Since the 1960s, the Israeli Air Force has played a key role in defending the country. At the same time, it has proven to be very successful in striking critical targets at considerable range. The dominance of the Israeli air force is due to effective training, exploiting enemy weaknesses, flexible approach to design and procurement.
Over the years, the Israelis have tried many different strategies to equip their air force with fighters including buying from France, the US, and even building the planes themselves. The country seems to have found a way to solve its problems with a combination of the two, with great effect.
Israel created two fighter jets: the Nesher and the Kfir. The second used a more powerful American engine, the General Electric J79-J1E turbojet, and was once considered the main fighter of the Israeli Air Force. Both aircraft were successful in terms of exports, with the Nesher serving in Argentina and the Kfir being sold to Colombia, Ecuador and Sri Lanka.
This investment has helped fuel the growth of Israel’s aerospace sector, which has major implications for the rest of the Israeli economy. It provided an important foundation for the early development of Israel’s civilian technology sector. The success of IAI Kfir has proven that Israel can stand on its own in the field of aerospace technology, eliminating the need to depend on a foreign supplier or aid.
Israel continued to invest heavily in aircraft purchased from abroad. The IDF began purchasing F-4 Phantom fighters in the late 1960s and F-15 Eagles in the mid-1970s. Israel believed that the combination of different fighters would enhance air combat capabilities. This led to the development of the Lavi, a light multirole fighter that could complement the F-15 Eagles.
But developing a completely new fighter requires a huge investment. Moreover, the US controls military exports much more seriously than France. Despite initial optimism about the Lavi, Israel soon realized that the United States would not allow widespread export of this fighter with its key technologies. On the other hand, the export of Lavi will compete directly with the F-16, and will only exacerbate the problem between Israel and the US. In August 1987, Israel decided to abandon the Lavi project. All political attempts to revive the plane failed and Israel eventually bought a large number of F-16s from the US.
Instead of pursuing its own fighter jet projects, Israel has recently tended to deeply modify the planes it buys from the US. The F-15I “Thunder” and the F-16I “Storm” are both deep Israeli upgrades. The IAF has also made major improvements on the F-35, to better suit its requirements. IAI has continued to have great success in developing and exporting, including bombs, ammunition and avionics.
IAI has also entered the UAV market with great success both at home and abroad. And despite Lavi’s debacle, Israel’s high-tech defense sector has had a significant spillover effect on the private civilian economy.
Israel’s current aerospace strategy depends on its stable relationship with the United States. Fortunately for Israel, there is little reason to believe that this relationship will soon decay. And even if the unthinkable happens, the Israeli industry’s mastery of developing critical components and support systems will keep it afloat before it finds another partner.