Pakistan Purchases Chinese Jets Based on Scrapped Israeli Lavi Fighter

Islamabad announces deal to buy 25 Chinese J-10 fighters, thought to be based on a plane whose production Israel canceled over 30 years ago

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A Chinese J-10 fighter aircraft performs a flight during the International Army Games, last year.
A Chinese J-10 fighter aircraft performs a flight during the International Army Games, last year.Credit: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

More than three decades after Jerusalem scrapped plans to field its own domestically produced combat aircraft, Pakistan announced last week that it was purchasing a squadron of 25 Chinese J-10 jets widely believed to be based on the canceled Israeli Lavi fighter.

Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad announced the purchase of the jets, which he said will serve as a counterweight to new French Dassault Rafale fighters soon to be fielded by rival India.

‘I hope we won’t need it’: Israel’s doomsday option against Iran. LISTEN

According to Forbes, neither China nor Pakistan has officially commented on Ahmad’s statement regarding the jets, which many believe to be based on technology developed by Israel Aircraft Industries in the 1980s.

A Lavi fighter model at IAI in Lod, 1985.Credit: Herard Reogordetzki \ GPO
Shimon Peres in a mock-up cockpit of the Lavi fighter at IAI in Lod, 1985.Credit: Herardo Reogorodetzki \ GPO

The development of the controversial multi-billion dollar Lavi was halted in August 1987 when then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s cabinet voted 13 to 12 to discontinue the project, adopting a compromise proposed by then-vice premier Shimon Peres to end it while allocating $100 million to Israel Aerospace Industries for the development of “future technologies.”

Steadily mounting costs and U.S. pressure doomed the project, with the Reagan administration strongly urging the project’s termination, telling Israel that the U.S. would help it maintain a high level of technological research and development once the Lavi was scrapped.

In a letter sent before the cancellation, the U.S. offered to help Israel develop research and development infrastructure for defense industries. It also offered to continue helping finance Israeli test flights of the Lavi prototype to develop avionic systems.

In 1988, then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin denied a Sunday Times of London report that Israel had agreed to sell advanced missile technology to China, and to help Beijing develop a combat fighter plane using technology derived from the Lavi. The two countries did not yet have formal diplomatic ties at the time. The J10 made its first flight in 1998.

Writing in Haaretz in 2017, Moshe Arens, one of the Lavi’s main backers in the Shamir government, contended that the cancellation was the result of “behind-the-scenes political manipulation” and accused an air force representative of lying to the cabinet regarding the project’s feasibility.

In response, Kobi Richter, the former head of the air force’s Weapons Department, wrote that canceling the jet had “saved the country from both an economic Holocaust and a critical error in building its military force.”

Indian Air Force aircraft fly near a J10 fighter jet during a rehearsal ahead of an air show in China, 2008.Credit: Reuters \ Bobby Yip

Israel’s fleet of combat aircraft consists exclusively of U.S. jets. Last February, Israel announced that it was purchasing four new refueling aircraft and another squadron – Israel’s third – of 25 F-35 fighter planes.

JTA and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott