December 11, 2001 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Defense and industry officials here are hailing a Pentagon decision to allow the integration of Israeli electronic warfare (EW) systems on U.S.-built F-16s, perhaps the first time Washington has allowed non-U.S. EW equipment aboard American fighters.
Although the U.S. decision pertains specifically to F-16 fighters destined for the Greek Air Force and carries strict caveats regarding technology transfer, Israeli officials here say it may portend unprecedented U.S.-Israeli defense industrial cooperation for the export market, perhaps even paving the way to building a hybrid fighter.
"We have been working with our American counterparts for some time now to convince them to allow our EW systems on the F-16s," an Israeli Ministry of Defense (MoD) official told Defense News Dec. 6. "We've had an agreement with the Greeks for more than a year, but Pentagon policy prohibiting the installation of non-American electronics systems on U.S. fighters always blocked our way.
"Now that the Pentagon has removed its veto, we expect a major improvement in bilateral defense industrial cooperation," he said.
Willard Mitchell, assistant secretary of the U.S. Air Force for international affairs, told Israel
¹s MoD in late November that Washington has agreed, in principle, to installation of a multipurpose EW suite on U.S. F-16s destined for the Hellenic Air Force
News of the U.S. Air Force waiver was first reported in the Dec. 6 by the Israeli daily Ha'aretz newspaper. In his report, Barzilai, a defense correspondent, noted that Amos Yaron, director-general of the Defense Ministry, and Kutiel Mor, the ministry's deputy director-general for foreign affairs, have been lobbying top Pentagon officials including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for nearly a year on the matter.
The U.S. policy exemption allows Elisra Electronics Systems Ltd., Bnei Barak, to finalize an agreement with Athens-based Hellenic Aerospace Industry S.A. for an initial EW order valued at about $140 million, Avner Raz, the firm's chief executive officer, told Defense News. Ultimately, Raz said, he hopes Elisra will provide more than $500 million in EW systems for a variety of Hellenic Air Force platforms.
"Removal of the Pentagon objections means we can now begin to work out details of our agreement [with the Greeks]," Raz said in a Dec. 7 interview. "There's no precedence here, and I think it's a major achievement for Amos Yaron, who led all those discussions with the U.S. government to allow us to reach this stage."
Raz noted that the Greek Ministry of Defense selected the Elisra EW system more than one year ago to equip F-16I fighters being produced by Lockheed Martin Corp. in Fort Worth, Texas.
Elisra and Lockheed Martin agreed more than two years ago to market F-16s with the Elisra EW suite to the world, Raz said.
He said Lockheed Martin will remain prime contractor and integrator for the program, while Lexington, Mass.-based Raytheon Co. will serve as principal subcontractor to Elisra. Raz added that Elisra had years of experience in integrating its sophisticated EW systems into F-15Is and the new block 50
F-16Is purchased by the Israel Air Force.
Jan Gottfredson, a spokeswoman at Lockheed Martin's Electronics Platform Integration segment, Owego, N.Y., declined comment on the deal Dec. 7.
The Elisra EW system proposed to Athens includes a complete multichannel passive self-protection system as well as active jammers, along with long-range protection against missiles and other threats.
As for the potential of future F-16 export sales equipped with the Elisra EW suite, Raz said, "Now that we have this precedent to guide us, we hope it will be easier for Lockheed Martin to offer our product to F-16 customers worldwide."
However, a U.S. defense official warned against reading too much into the Pentagon waiver. He stressed that the waiver currently pertains solely to F-16s destined for Greece
, and that Israel would have to apply on a case-by-case basis for future policy exemptions.
The official noted that the Pentagon has insisted that Elisra work with Raytheon as a means of protecting sensitive American data that is provided to NATO
allies, including Greece, regarding operational performance of the F-16.
"We needed to build a firewall of sorts to limit the transfer of technologies; in this case, knowledge of and access to the database associated with the aircraft," the U.S. official told Defense News Dec. 6.
Despite the waiver concerning Israeli EW systems, the official noted that the U.S. Air Force has no plans to reverse its longstanding opposition to Israeli requests to integrate a locally developed radar system into U.S. F-16s.
Objections to integration of the Israeli radar on the U.S. fighter stem primarily from the Pentagon's desire to maintain full control over the sensitive software source code that serves as the central nervous system of the aircraft.