Defense intelligence officials said this week that China's new J-10 jet fighter was built with the help of Israel, under the U.S.-sponsored Lavi jet fighter program canceled back in 1987.
"China's J-10 program was assisted by engineers who worked on the Israeli Lavi program," one defense official told Inside the Ring. "The J-10 and Lavi share many of the same design elements."
According to the officials, Russia also has helped with the J-10 program, helping Beijing to develop a new J-10 engine to replace the current one — a Chinese copy of the CFM-56 jet engine developed jointly by General Electric and the French company Snecma.
The J-10 was under development in secret for years but its deployment was only acknowledged by Beijing in January 2007. It is considered a fourth-generation fighter-bomber comparable to the U.S. F-16.
The defense officials' comments followed a report in Jane's Defence Weekly stating that the J-10 is a close copy of the Lavi jet, and that Chinese developers had access to a Lavi prototype in Chengdu, where the J-10 was designed and built. Documents in Hebrew on the Israel Aircraft Industries jet also were observed by Russian engineers, the magazine stated.
The Lavi was developed with $1.8 billion in U.S. aid to Israel. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in 2005 sharply restricted U.S. military technology sharing with Israel over concerns about Israeli-Chinese military cooperation.
The Israeli-Chinese J-10 cooperation involved "decades"-long exchanges between Russian, Israeli and Chinese aircraft developers, the magazine stated, quoting Russians involved in the program. The cooperation included extensive design and performance modeling, wind-tunnel testing and advanced aerodynamic design input.
Richard Fisher, a specialist on China's military with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the J-10-Lavi cooperation "confirms the need for continued American vigilance to prevent military technology sales to China from Israel or any other ally."
"This is now a tragedy for the people of Israel and the United States, given the high chances that China will sell the J-10 to Iran," he said, adding that Israel should fully disclose the extent of military cooperation with China, "a country that aids the enemies of Israel, and threatens America and many of its allies."
An Israeli Embassy spokesman said he is checking the report. A Chinese Embassy spokesman could not be reached.
Chinese and Israeli officials in the past have denied any links between the J-10 and the Lavi.