Cabinet Halts Lavi Production
IAI Lavi Jet Prototype. Photo: Public Domain

August 30, 1987

On a 12-11 vote, the Israeli Cabinet decides to end production of the Lavi fighter jet, under development since 1980 by Israel Aerospace Industries and first flown as a prototype in December 1986.

The delta-wing Lavi (“Young Lion”), similar in appearance to the American F-16, was meant to be the homegrown mainstay of the Israeli Air Force. But the project struggled from the start amid Israel’s already high defense spending, despite a U.S. commitment of $2 billion. Israel projected the cost of each plane to be $15.2 million, but that figure rose by 45% as spending rose past an expected $11 billion and the planned production dropped from 300 to 80 planes. The specifications of the plane were complicated by the potential need to counter both Soviet and American aircraft. Military planners projected selling more than 400 of the aircraft on the export market, but Israel eventually agreed not to sell the Lavi abroad. Military spending was straining the economy, and other parts of the defense budget were cut before the Lavi program became a target.

With the support of Finance Minister Moshe Nissim, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ Labor Party led the push to cancel the Lavi as unfeasible, while Moshe Arens, a minister without portfolio and a veteran of the Israeli Air Force, fought to save the fighter.

The decision to kill the Lavi eases budget pressures but costs as many as 6,000 jobs at IAI. Israel instead buys 90 F-16Cs. The technology and engineering developed during the Lavi project help Israel launch its first space satellite in 1988 and contribute to Israel’s high-tech boom starting in the 1990s.