For a variety of reasons however, the Carter Administration rejected the Israeli proposal. The Carter Administration was unwilling to grant the Israelis any degree of arms independence, prefering to maintain all possible leverage for future diplomacy. General Dynamics' Fort Worth Division, which produced the F-16 was also apprehensive that an Israeli-developed version of the F-16 might prove superior to the aircraft that were produced at its own plant, and could compete for foreign sales. It was an irrational fear - given that Israel would have been no more free to re-export the aircraft than were the European partners already producing the F-16 locally - but it was a fear nonetheless.
The Israeli armed forces had a long history of modifying the weapons that they used to better suit their specific needs. A decade earlier, they had entered into a co-production agreement with France's Dassault, to develop the air-to-air Mirage III into a more versatile strike fighter, labeled the Mirage 5 - with the range and payload that the Israeli armed forces needed. The request to develop a more capable version of the F-16 was therefore not unique. Developing the existing F-16 airframe into the longer-range strike platform that was needed to meet Israeli objectives was the option preferred by the Israeli armed forces. It would have been the cheapest means to meeting their goals.
|The No. 2 Lavi prototype is rolled out (GPO)|
|The F-16I: An evolved F-16 with the range the IDF needed (USAF)|
This past month, an Israeli delegation met with officials at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth Divison, to explore options for developing an evolved version of Lockheed's newest fighter, the F-35. The Israeli officials are looking to develop a version of the F-35 with the kind of range and payload that the Israeli armed forces need.
|The F-35: Israel is still negotiating to extend the fighter's range (USAF)|
The longer-term planning, revolves around the development of low-observable, conformal fuel tanks that would add considerably to the range of the F-35, without compromising its stealth properties. The incorporation of this kind of capability in particular, however, will require significant modification to the F-35 airframe - to provide attachment points for the fuel tanks as well as plumbing for the fuel.
Once again, the Israelis have come to the United States looking to develop an evolved version of a U.S. fighter, with the range and payload that the Israeli armed forces need. The kind of range needed to strike targets as far away as Iran. Once again, this same fighter is already being co-produced by U.S. partners in Europe. And once again, there are reports that the U.S. manufacturer of the fighter is concerned that an improved, Israeli-developed version of the F-35 could become a competitor for their own upgrade packages in the export market. There has already been a considerable amount of wrangling, over whether to allow the Israeli Air Force to add its own electronic warfare and secure data-links to the F-35s that it purchases. The latest revelations from this past month suggest that this debate is not yet over.
We can only hope that the U.S. government and U.S. contractors do not repeat the same mistakes that were made in 1977 and 1980. Particularly in this day and age, with the considerable focus on the threat posed by Iran, convincing the Israeli government that there is no U.S. alternative that will meet the needs of the IDF is not likely to have an inexpensive outcome - for anyone involved.
 John Golan, Lavi: The United States, Israel, and a Controversial Fighter Jet (Sterling, VA: Potomac, 2016).
 David Eshel, "Israel Will Be First Non-U.S. Customer to Fly F-35," Aviation Week Network (June 26, 2013).
 Barbara Opall-Rome, "Eyeing Iran, Israel Readies for Stealth Strike Fighter," DefenseNews (September 5, 2015).
 "Lockheed Worried About IDF Unauthorized 'Modifications' in F-35," Jewish Press (September 6, 2015).
 David Eshel and David Fulghum, "Israel, U.S. Agree to $450 Million in F-35 EW Work," Aviation Week Network (August 6, 2012).