Another stab in the back was the decision to let Israel use foreign aid funds from the Camp David agreement to pay for development of the Lavi, a lightweight fighter that was a direct competitor to the F-20. Northrop already saw Israel's hand behind the effort to stop the sale to Taiwan and have the Taiwanese buy Israeli Kfir fighters instead. It was illogical and galling that Northrop, an American company, would be told it had to invest its own funds in development of a fighter export aircraft, while at the same time Israel would be given US taxpayer funds to develop a competitor. The logic eventually was apparent even to the US Congress, and in the end, after the F-20 was dead, the Lavi was canceled as well.
But the morass of Chinese politics led to another contradiction. Northrop began receiving calls from its contractors in 1982 that the US government had secretly contracted with General Dynamics to develop a fighter for Taiwan in replacement for the prohibited Northrop F-20! And they were going to use the avionics developed for the F-20 by Northrop and it subcontractors in the new aircraft. Imagining Northrop's vast clout in Washington, they demanded that something be done. The sense of utter betrayal ran deep through the F-20 project staff and vendor community.
The Reagan administration had publicly prohibited Northrop from selling a fighter developed with its own funds to Taiwan, then secretly arranged for Northrop's competitor to develop a replacement. The fighter being developed by General Dynamics for the Taiwanese used F-16 aerodynamics (a belly inlet), but instead of a single F404, the twin Garrett turbofans-with-afterburner engine layout that many within Northrop had originally favored for the F-20. General Dynamics had selected the F-20's General Electric radar, Honeywell laser inertial gyro system, the Bendix displays for the Taiwanese fighter.
The triptych was perfect when, in the 1990's, the US government secretly allowed mainland China to develop Israel's Lavi design as the F-10. Perhaps there was a secret agreement all along to let each side - China and Taiwan - secretly develop a fighter based on Western technology?
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© Mark Wade, 1997 - 2006 except where otherwise noted.
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