Review: Lavi


Engineer John Golan decides to tell the story of the IAI Lavi fighter in the book of the same name. It’s a very frustrating, “mean 51%” book. First, the good part. The aeronautical engineering stuff (which takes up an understandably large portion of the book) is well done (if over my head mostly). Likewise, the story of its development and cancellation, with tumult and controversy in both America and Israel, is also well told.

The problem comes from the slant of the book. In terms of bias towards the Lavi, Golan feels the same way about it as Arrian did about Alexander the Great. It’s understandable for an engineer to feel that way: The Lavi being a clean-sheet design meant that there was more it could with less size in the strike role than the adapted F-16. But this also leads to tunnel vision and avoiding the context. Which is that an expensive toy may not have been the best option overall for a country with a reduced conventional threat and in an economic collapse at the time (inflation in Israel was reaching near-Weimar levels).

There are also a few “brown M&Ms” (oversights that raise some eyebrows for me). Golan speaks of the Osirak raid as “setting Saddam’s nuclear program back a decade” (if anything, it accelerated it), and takes the 10-1 kill rate in the Korean War at face value. More annoyingly, it falls too much for the “Pentagon Reformer” arguments.

Finally, relying on fighter pilots gave me the exact opposite thought than Golan intended. His impression of the Yom Kippur War veteran pilots leaning so hard on the Lavi was that of pragmatists who’d been through the worst of war. My impression was of them (understandably) wanting a gold-plated plane while not being able to see the forest for the trees. As Bill James put it “The trees really are not, when you think about it, in a very good position to evaluate the issue.” It gets to the point where you probably wouldn’t know from this book alone that the Bekaa Valley air battle was the squash it was with the “worse” aircraft.

Still, this is an interesting book on an interesting plane. For aviation enthusiasts, it’s well worth a read.

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