Israel has been embroiled in more wars in recent times than any other nation, with the result that Israeli pilots are very combat experienced, and most likely to know exactly what they want in a fighter, within the constrains of affordability. When, in 1979, the Lavi programme was announced, a great deal of interest was aroused for these reasons.
The Lavi programme was launched in February 1980 as a multi-role combat aircraft. The Lavi was intended primarly for the close air support (CAS) and battlefield air interdiction (BAI) mission with a secondary air-defence mission. The two-seat version could be used as a conversion trainer. As orginally conceived, the Lavi was to have been a light attack aircraft to replace the eldery McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and the IAI Kfir, remaining in service with the IDF/AF. A single-seater, powered by a General Electric F404 turbofan, it was soon perceived that this solution gave no margin for future growth, and an alternative engine was choosen, the much more powerful Pratt & Whitney PW1120. With the extra power came demands for greater capability, until the Lavi began to rival the F-16, which was already in service with the IDF/AF.
The full-scale development (FSD) phase of the Lavi began in October 1982. Orginally, the maximum take-off weight was projected as 17,000 kg, but studies showed that with only a few design changes, and thus a slight increase in weight, the Lavi could carry more armament. The prize was tried to kept at the same level. With a prospective IDF/AF requirement for up to 300 aircraft (including 60 combat-capable two-seaters), the full-scale development (FSD) phase was to involve five prototypes (B-01 to B-05) of which two, B-01 and B-02, were two-seaters and three, B-03, B-04, and B-05, were single-seaters.
A full-scale mock-up of the Lavi was revealed at the beginning of 1985.
The first Lavi which was rolled out was the Lavi B-02. The Lavi B-01 was not ready in time, because it was going through the final stages of the construction for the first flight. The Lavi B-02 looked good from the outside, but it was not fitted with avionics etc.
The first Lavi (B-01) flew on 31 December 1986, piloted by IAI chief test pilot Menacachem Schmoll. The handling was described as excellent, with a high degree of stability in crosswind landings, and the flight test programme proceeded space. The second Lavi (B-02) flew on 30 March 1987. Both Lavi B-01 and Lavi B-02 were tandem two-seaters, with the rear cockpit occupied by test equipment and were not equipped with the full avionics fit and used mainly for aerodynamic testing.
Then, on 30 August 1987, the Lavi programme was cancelled, after Lavi B-01 and Lavi B-02 had made more than 80 flights. The two prototypes had flown at speeds from 204 km/h up to Mach 1.45 at 23o angle of attack. Much systems, including the digital flight control, were tested within this envelope.
The third Lavi (B-03) and subsequent Lavi prototypes (B-04 and B-05) would be fitted with the definitive wing with increased elevon chord and the last three prototypes would also have the complete mission-adaptive avionics system. Lavi B-04 and Lavi B-05 were just about to receive the definitive wing when the programme was cancelled.
The first production aircraft were intended to be delivered in 1990 and initial operationaly capability (IOC) was planned for 1992. At the height of the production, a total of twelve aircraft would be produced in one month. The Lavi would have been the most inportant aircraft of the IDF/AF in the nineties.
Comparisons with the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon are inevitable, as the US fighter made a handy yardstick. The Lavi was rather smaller and lighter, with a less powerful powerplant, and the thrust-to-weigth ratio was slightly lower across the board. The configuration adopted was that of a tail-less canard delta, although the wing was unusual in having shallow sweep on the trailing edge, giving a fleche planform. The straight leading edge was swept at 54 degrees, with manoeuvre flaps on the ourboard sections. The tips were cropped and fitted with missile rails to carry the Rafael Python 3 air-to-air missile. Two piece flaperons occupied most of the trailing edge, which was blended into the fuselage with long fillets. The wing area was 38.50 square metres, 38 per cent greater than the wing area of the F-16, giving an almost exactly proportionally lower wing loading, while the aspect ratio at 2.10, was barely two-thirds that of the F-16. Pitch control was provided by single piece, all-moving canard surfaces, located slightly astern of and below the pilot where they would cause minimal obstruction in vision. Grumman was responsible for the design and development of the wing and the fin, and would produced at least the first 20 wings and fins.
Predictably, relaxed static stability and quadruplex fly-by-wire (FBW), with no mechanical backup was used, linked to nine different control surfaces to give a true control configured vehicle (CCV). In comparison with the F-16, the Lavi is very unstable, with an instability of 10 to 12 per cent. The surfaces were programmed to give minimum drag in all flight regimes, while providing optimum handling and agility. It was stated that the Lavi had an inherent direct lift control capablity, although this was never demonstrated.
The powerplant intake was a plain chin type scoop, similar to that of the F-16, which was known to be satisfactory at high alpha and sideslip angles. The landing gear was lightweight, the nose wheel was located aft of the intake and retracting rearwards, and the main gear was fuselage mounted, giving a rather narrow track. The sharply swept vertical tail, effective at high alpha due to interaction with the vortices shed by the canards, was mounted on a spine on top of the rear fuselage, and supplemented by the two steeply canted ventral srakes, mounted on the ends of the wing root fillets. Extensive use of composites allowed aerolastic tailoring to the wings, so that the often conflicting demands of shape and rigidity could be resolved to minimise drag in all flight regimes. Composites were also used in the vertical tail, canards, and various doors and panels. A total of twenty-two per cent of the structural weight compromise composite materials. IAI claimed a significant reduction in radar cross section (RCS).
Standard practice with high performance jet aircraft is to provide a second seat for conversion training by shoehorning it in, normally at the expense of fuel or avionics, or both. IAI adopted a different approach, designing the two-seater first, and then adopting it into a single-seater, which left plenty of room for avionics growth. In fact, the first 30 production aircraft would all have been two-seaters to aid service entry. Many of these aircraft were later to have been fitted out for the suppression of enemy air-defense (SEAD) mission.
The powerplant of the Lavi was the Pratt & Whitney PW1120 turbofan, rated at 6,137 kg dry and 9,337 kg with reheat and was a derivate of the F100 turbofan. The development of the PW1120, according to IDF/AF specifications, started in June 1980. It retained the F100 core module, gearbox, fuel pump, forward ducts, as well as the F100 digital electronic control, with only minor modifications. Unique PW1120 components included a wide chord low pressure (LP) compressor, single-stage uncooled low pressure (LP) turbine, simplified single stream augmentor, and a lightweight convergent/divergent nozzle. Full scale testing was initiated in June 1982, and flight clearance of the PW1120 was tested in August 1984. The PW1120 had 70 per cent similarity with the F100, so the IDF/AF would not need a special facility for spare parts. It would be built under licence by Bet-Shemesh Engines Limited in Israel.
IAI installed one PW1120 in the starboard nacelle of an F-4E-32-MC of the IDF/AF (Number 334/66-0327) to explore the airframe/powerplant combination for an upgrade programme of the F-4E, known as Kurnass 2000 (Heavy Hammer) or Super Phantom and to act as an engine testbed for the Lavi. The powerplant was more powerfull, and more fuel efficient than the General Electric J79-GE-17 turbojet normally installed in the F-4E. The structural changes included modifying the air inlet ducts, new powerplant attachment points, new or modified powerplant baydoors, new airframe mounted gearbox with integrated drive generators and automatic throttle system. It also included a modified bleed managment and air-conditioning ducting system, modified fuel and hydraulic systems, and a powerplant control/airframe interface. It was first flown on 30 July 1986. Two PW1120 powerplants were installed in the same F-4E and it was flown for the first time on 24 April 1987. This proved very succesfull, allowing the Kurnass 2000 to exceed Mach 1 without the afterburners, and endowing a combat thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.04 (17 per cent better than the F-4E). This improved sustained turn rate by 15 per cent, climb rate by 36 per cent, medium-level acceleration by 27 per cent and low-level speed with 18 bombs from 1,046 km/h to 1,120 km/h. It was demonstrated at the Paris Air Show in 1987 carrying the show number 229 and civil registration 4X-JPA. However, McDonnell Douglas refused to approve the modification, because it offered a flight performance equal to that of the F/A-18C/D, and endangered any future sales of the F/A-18C/D.
The internal fuel capacity was 3,330 litres (2,722 kg), some 16 per cent less than the F-16, although this was claimed to be offset by the low drag of the Lavi airframe and the low specific fuel consumption (sfc) of the powerplant. Single point high pressure refuelling was adopted for quick turnaround, and provision made for air refuelling with a female type receptable compatible with flying boom-equipped tankers. To aid the flight test programme, the Lavi prototypes were also equipped with bolt-on refuelling probes. The external fuel capacity was 4,164 kg in two 2,548 litre drop tanks on the inboard pair wing stations.
Specification of the Pratt & Whitney PW1120
Performance ratings (ISA, S/L): Static thrust: 6,137 kg. Augmented thrust: 9,337 kg. Mass flow: 80.9 kg. Pressure ratio: 26.8.
Specific fuel consumption: Static thrust: 22.7 mg/Ns. Augmentd thrust: 52.65 mg/Ns.
Dimensions: Length: 4,110 mm. Maximum diameter: 1,021 mm.
Weights: Dry weight: 1,292 kg.
The Lavi had an AiResearch enviromental control system for air-conditioning pressurisation, and powerplant bleed air control. A pneudralics bootstrap type hydraulic system with a pressure of 207 bars with Adex pumps was also installed. The electronical system was powered by a Sundstrand 60 kVA integrated drive generator, for single-channel AC power at 400 Hz, with a SAFT main and Marathon standby battery. Sundstrand also provided the actuation system, with geared rotory actuators, for the leading-edge flaps. The Lavi had an AiResearch emergency power unit (EPU) and a Garrett secondary power system.
The avionics of the Lavi were modular - they could be upgraded by loading new software into the Elbit ACE-4 mission computer. The purpose was that the airframe would not require many modifications during its life. The avionics suite was stated to be almost enterely of Israeli design. The flexibility and the situational awarness were emphasised to reduce the pilot workload at high g and in a dense threat environment. The air data computer was provided by Astronautics. Most of the avionics of the Lavi had already been test flown in a Boeing Model 727 testbed of IAI.
A wrap around windshield and bubble canopy gave excellent all-round vision. But where a steeply raked seat and sidestick controller similar to the F-16 might have been excepted, IAI selected a conventional upright seat and central control column. The reasoning was as follows. The raked seat raised the pilot's knees, causing a reduction in panel space which could ill be spared while neck and shoulder strains were common in the F-16 when a pilot craned around in his steeply raked seat to search the sky astern while pulling high g. The sidestick controller was faulted on three counts:
It virtually neutralised the starboard console space. With a force transducer it was difficult for an instructor pilot to know precisely what a pupil was trying to do.
In the event of quite a minor injury to the right arm, the pilot would not be able to recover the Lavi to its base. With a central stick, the Lavi could be flown left-handed with little difficulty.
The cockpit layout was state of the art, with HOTAS (hands-on-throttle and stick), and a Hughes Aircraft wide-angle diffractive optics head-up-display (HUD) surmounting a single El-Op up-front control panel, through which most of the systems were operated. Furthermore, the cockpit had LCD technology powerplant indicators. Elbit Computers Ltd was selected as prime contractor for the integrated display system, which included the HUD, the three head-down diplays (HDD) (two of them were colour presentations and the third black and white), display computers, and communications controller, which included an Elta ARC-740 fully computerised onboard UHF radio system. Data-sharing between the HDDs would ensure display redundancy. The navigation system included the Tuman TINS 1700 advanced inertial navigation system. Control-column, throttle and display keyboard were all encoded in the display computers, which would themselves had a back-up function to the main aircraft computer, the Elbit ACE-4.
Elbit ACE-4 Mission Computer
The Elbit ACE-4 mission computer was selected for the IAI Lavi. It was compatible with both the MIL-STD-1750A and MIl-STD-1553B standards and could be used for display, digital radar, stores managment and (future) avionics integration. It had a memory of 128 K.
Elta EL/M-2035 Multi-Mode Pulse Doppler Radar
The Elta EL/M-2035 multi-mode pulse-Doppler radar was a development of the Elta EL/M-2021B multi-mode Doppler radar of the IAI Kfir-C2. The radar was very advanced and had a coherent transmitter and a stable multi-channel receiver for reliable look-down performance over a broad band of frequencies and for high resolution mapping. An Elta programmable signal processor, backed by a distributed, embedded computer network, would provide optimum allocation of computing power and great flexibility for growth and the updating of algorithims and systems growth.
The radar could provide speed and position of targets in the air and on the ground, and could provide the pilot with a map of the terrain the Lavi was overflying. It could track several targets at 46 km distance in at least five air-to-air modes (automatic target aquisition, boresight, look down, look up and track while scan (TWS)). The radar had at least two air-to-ground modes (beam-sharpened ground mapping/terrain avoidance ans sea search). After the cancellation of the Lavi programme the radar was offered for multi-role fighter retrofits, including the Denel Cheetah E.
Elta/Elistra Electronic Warning System
The electronic warning system of the Lavi was designed by Elta and Elistra and was based on an active and passive integrated electronic support measures/electronic countermeasures (ESM/ECM) computer-system, and was capable of rapid threat identification and automatic deception and jamming of enemy radar stations. It was carried internally. This system could also be used in the future eviroment of more sophisticated enemy radar systems. The Lavi could eventually carried podded power-managed noise and deception jammers.
Lear Siegler/MBT Fully Digital Flight Control System
The Lear Siegler/MBT fully digital flight control system for the Lavi had quadruplex redundancy with stability augmentation, and had no mechanical backup. It compromised two boxes, with two digital channels built into each box. The twin-box configuration hinged on the survivability issue, which was given great emphasis. If one was damaged, the other would provided sufficient control authority to regain base. Each digital channel had associated with it an analogue channel that could have take over its function in the event of a failure. The design total failure rate was not greater than 1 in 107 hours. The programme was launched in October 1982, and production deliveries would began in 1988.
Elbit SMS-86 Stores Managment System
Elbit was selected during early 1985 to develop the SMS-86 stores managment system for the Lavi. The system, which was fully computer-controlled, compromised two units. The stores managment processor included one MIL-STD-1750 computer and two MIL-STD-1553B data-bus interfaces. The armament interface unit included a stores interface compatible with the MIL-STD-1750. The SMS-86 was capable of managing both conventional and smart weapons.
The weapons carriage of the Lavi was mainly semi-conformal, thus reducing drag, with two hardpoints beneath each wing (the inboard pair was wet for the carriage of two 2,548 litre auxilliary fuel tanks), plus the wingtip rail and seven underfuselage hardpoints (three tandem pairs plus one on the centreline). The main air-to-air weapon was to be the Rafael Python 3, an Israeli-designed short range infra-red (IR) homing dogfight air-to-air missile, while a DEFA Type 552 (Improved) cannon was housed in the starboard wing root. The air-to-ground weapons used by the Lavi included the Hughes AGM-65B Maverick, the IAI Gabriel IIIAS, rockets, and the Mk 81, Mk 82, Mk 83, Mk 84, and M117 bombs.
Shortly before the cancellation of the Lavi programme, it was proposed that the Israeli Ministery of Defence (MoD) would sponsor what was then termed the Lavi 2000, a new combat aircraft for the next century.
The total cost for the development and production of the Lavi was 6,400 million US dollar in 1983 and approximately 40 per cent was paid by the US government. The fly-away price for the Lavi would be between 15 and 17 million US dollar. The development costs of 1,370 million US dollar were relatively low, because much use was made of existing technology.
Even before the first Lavi (B-01) flew, the storm clouds were gathering. In 1983, the US government refused to give the export licences for a number of essential parts (for example the wings), because the parts provided high technology products. A total of 80 US firms would provide technology through licences. In 1984 the licences were awarded. Furthermore, the US government was not prepared to give money and technology to an aircraft that could be a major concurrent for the F-16C/D and the F/A-18C/D on the future export market.
In the spring of 1985, Israel was in an economic depression and the Lavi programme was almost cancelled.
Then, a dispute arose as to the final unit cost, the Israeli figure being far less than the US calculations showed. The US Congress withdrew financial support for the Lavi programme.
The Israeli government could not finance the project without US support and cancelled the Lavi programme on 30 August 1987. The vote was 12 to 11 to cancel the Lavi programme. After the cancellation the US government offered the A-10A, AH-64A, AV-8B, F-15I, F-16C/D and UH-60A as replacements for the Lavi, all Israeli wishes that were previously rejected. In May 1988, Israel ordered 30 F-16C Block 40 and 30 F-16D Block 40 under Peace Marble III.
The Lavi programme was a truly national programme, and everyone in Israel followed the progression. The cancellation of the programme was a true sad event.
After the Cancellation
Although the flight performance envelope was not completely explored, it seems probably that the Lavi would have been at least the equal of the F-16C/D in most departments, and possible even superior in some. It had been calculated that the Lavi could reef into a turn a full half second quicker than the F-16, simply because a conventional tailed fighter suffers a slight delay while the tailplane takes up a download, whereas with a canard fighter reaction is instantaneous. By the same token, pointability of canard fighters is quicker and more precise. Where the Lavi might really have scored heavely was in superconic manoeuvrability, basically due to the lower wave drag of a canard delta.
It was orginally planned to use Lavi B-03, a two-seater, as a test vehicle for the Elta EL/M-2035 radar, the Elta/Elistra electronic warning (EW) system, the Elta ARC-740 fully computerised onboard UHF radio system, the Tuman TINS 1700 advanced inertial navigation system, the Elbit SMS-86 stores managment system, the Astronautics air data computer and many other avionics of indigenous design.
A clause included in the Israeli government's decision to cancel the Lavi programme on 30 August 1987 stated that the development of the third Lavi prototype (Lavi B-03) would continue under Israeli Ministery of Defence (MoD) funding to test the avionics fit of the Lavi. The intention was to satisfy the industry and allow for the future export of the systems of the LAvi as a complete package. However, the IDF/AF objected strongly and argued that the funds, about 90 million US dollar, were required for other programmes, such as the first stage definition for the upgrade of the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle of the IDF/AF. The MoD finally surrendered to pressure and on 8 July 1988 the Minister of Defence, Itschak Rabin, accepted the decision to wirthdraw the MoD's funding for the programme.
In August 1988, Morshe Keret, IAI's general director, announced that IAI would use its own financial resources to produce the Lavi B-03, by using parts of either the Lavi B-01 or the Lavi B-02, and it had approximately 15 per cent larger elevons. The Lavi TD (Technology Demonstrator) carried a belly-mounted instrumentation and a telemetry pod. The Lavi TD was rolled out after the cancellation of the Lavi programme. It was intended as a demonstrator for IAI's advanced fighter/cockpit technologies, which the company is applying by retrofit to a number of earlier combat aircraft, and as an equipment testbed. The Lavi TD has two Martin Baker Mk 10 lightweight zero/zero ejection seats. The maiden flight of the Lavi TD (B-03) slipped from March 1989 to 25 September 1989, when it made its maiden flight piloted by IAI chief test pilot Menacachem Schmoll from Ben Gurion International Airport, following several last minute delays. An immediate application involved the improved digital flight control system integrated with the advanced manoeuvre and attack system. In 1994, while it was still used as a flying testbed, it was planned to install a Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation. In 1998, it was still used as a (non-flying) testbed.
Some of the avionics of the Lavi have found operational applications. An Elta/Elistra electronic warning (EW) system, probably based on that designed for the Lavi, equip thirty of the sixty F-16C/Ds that were delivered to the IDF/AF from May 1991 onwards following the Minister of Defence's controversial decision on 27 November 1988 to split the order equally between Loral and Elta/Elistra.
Lavi B-02 is on display at the IDF/AF Museum in Hatzerim. It does not have the powerplant installed, because it was removed for use in the Lavi TD (B-03). The PW1120 turbofan is not manufactured anymore, so IAI need it as long as it works.
Lavi B-01, Lavi B-04 and Lavi B-05 were sold to the metal industry and were melted to aluminum blocks in 1996. The metal industry was not alowed to disassamble the aircraft or sell some of the parts. The event was well covered by the Israeli media.
At the beginning of the nineties there were rumours that Israel had delivered a Lavi to South Africa.
The Chinese Chengdu J-10 (F-10) seems to draw heavely on the Lavi programme. However, a close examination of the model of the J-10 shows nothing more than an old technology fighter with the shape of a modern one. A prototype was in the final stage of construction at the end of 1997 and Israeli and Russian companies were competing to provide the radar and the associate air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground weapons. The J-10 made its maiden flight on 24 March 1998.
An editor of Flight International flew the Lavi during 1989, and published his experiences of the flight in 1991 during operation Desert Storm. He wrote:
Now when the coalition forces fight in the Gulf they miss the aircraft they really need. It's a real shame that I had to fly the world's best fighter knowing it would never get into service.
Serials of the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Lavi
B-01 Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Lavi
First flight on 31 December 1986
Sold to metal industry and melted to aluminum blocks in 1996
B-02 Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Lavi
First flight on 30 March 1987
On display at the IDF/AF Museum in Hatzerim
B-03 Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Lavi TD
Completed by using parts of either Lavi B-01 or Lavi B-02
Had approximately 15 per cent larger elevons
First flight on 25 September 1989
Still flying in 1994
Still used as a (non-flying) testbed in 1998
B-04 Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Lavi
Sold to metal industry and melted to aluminum blocks in 1996
B-05 Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Lavi
Sold to metal industry and melted to aluminum blocks in 1996