The Israeli defense industry is considered one of the best in the world. This was also confirmed last November by the successful performance of a new antimissile system, Iron Dome, when Palestinian fighters launched about 600 rockets on Israel. The four antimissile batteries deployed in southern Israel shot down 200 rockets. The rest fell on the Israeli territory, causing no damage. It was a major step for Israel to defend its territory from short-range rockets Qassam, Grad, and Fajr.
How can such a small country, which lacks natural resources, manage to be a leader in the defense sector, effectively solve the most challenging defense problems, and, what is more, export most of the produced items?
A group of journalists from Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway managed to take a close look at some of Israel’s best defense enterprises. This opportunity was given by the Foreign Ministry of Israel, which organized a press tour as part of the 8th Annual International Ilan Ramon Space Conference in Herzliya, Tel Aviv District. Journalists were not only allowed to visit factories but were also shown state-of-the-art systems.
Elop Ltd, which belongs to Elbit Systems, specializes in developing electro-optical devices and is the world’s largest company of this kind outside the US,” Elop spokesman Avi Blasberger said. In his words, the yearly sales of Elop, which employs 1,700 people, reach $500 million, while Elbit Systems, which has 13,000 employees, including 2,600 in the US, annually sells products worth $2.817 billion. The share of exports is 70 percent. Products are supplied to 68 countries to fill orders worth $5.528 billion.
The company Elbit Systems is famous for its electro-optical Earth observation cameras. Having a high resolving power, these cameras can take high-quality pictures from the altitude of 90 km. Six cameras designed by this company are now in outer space, Blasberger pointed out. Now the company is developing a more powerful company, Jupiter, for the OptSAT 3000 satellite. Elop also manufactures the VENmS spectrographic camera with a 5-m resolution as part of a joint project of the Israeli Space Agency and the French CNES. It is a very light-weight camera that consumes little energy and is intended to be installed on satellites produced by Israel Aerospace Industries’ space department.
The company designs communications satellites which provide access to the broadband Internet in African countries, and make it possible to give long-distance medical advice or, say, use IP-phones in Indonesia, the company’s Senior Director Asaf Cohen said.
Yet the company revealed its most promising design to the journalists at the end of the excursion. It is the C-MUSIC system that protects passenger airplanes from Strela- or Stinger-type missiles. It is a special 200-kg unit that has four electro-optical cameras on four sides, which detect the launching of a missile, and a laser which “blinds” the missile’s guidance system. This unit, fitted under the plane’s fuselage, functions automatically without the crew’s intervention and can be replaced in an hour’s time in case of failure, Blasberger explained. Elop worked on this system for three years. The company recently concluded a $76-million-worth contract to install C-MUSIC systems on EL AL-operated airplanes. The company has also designed smaller anti-Strela and anti-Stinger systems which can be installed on light and heavy helicopters.
Incidentally, in the Elop headquarters’ lounge, next to the turnstile, there are several two-meter-high glass pillars, one of which displays a fragment of polished glass on which it is written “Knowledge is love and light and vision.” These words belong to the blind and deaf American writer and political activist Helen Keller. This can be interpreted as sort of a philosophy of the company that uses glass as a basis of its designs.
While Elop does not in fact differ from commonplace institutions, a different situation is in another defense company, IAI ELTA, which developed the Iron Dome system. The checkpoint at the entrance to this high-profile organization, referred to as Israel’s radar house, is guarded by submachine-gunners. You can photograph only what is allowed.
Boaz Nathan, the author of Iron Dome, confessed that everybody had to leave the premises during a rocket strike in November. He said this system was based on the radars which the company had been developing since 1963, when it was founded. The system first spots the place from where the rocket or missile was launched, then computes its flight path and transmits data to an antimissile battery. “We only have a minute at our disposal to compute all this,” Nathan stressed. A special system, RICent, analyzes all the data that come from various sources of information, such as satellites, early warning aircraft, and drones. The system’s designer Michael Ariely said it is very difficult to detect in real time an object that is going to deliver a strike. To be successful, he says, specialists should use different types of radars, see threats in good time, and then quickly assess their nature. The journalists were shown this done in practice.
“Take control into your own hands and dominate on the theater of operations. Our systems are your advantage. We always look forward and are a step forward” – these are slogans under which IAI ELTA advertises its products.
By far the best known Israeli defense product in the world is the Heron unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which can automatically take off and land and carries a 250-kg payload. These drones, produced by IAI Malat, are widely deployed in Afghanistan and some Latin American countries, particularly in fighting against drug trafficking.
Nir Salomon, manager of business development for IAI Malat, said that this company division had put out about a thousand drones of various types since 1974. The total flying time of these machines is 1,600,000 hours. This enterprise, which supplies its products to 42 countries, employs 900 people. Its sales reached $400 million last year.
This company’s smallest drone, the Ghost, weighs 4 kg and is very quiet in operation. Its purpose is to monitor indoor conversations for 30 minutes by means of a 400-g optical camera. Mr. Salomon says there is a prospective buyer of this system.
The company currently produces the 5-ton Heron TP UAV which carries a payload of one ton and can automatically perform missions for as long as 24 hours. Mr. Salomon note that this drone has a lot of equipment and is capable of simultaneously tracking 100 targets. In his words, it takes three months to make an UAV like this. The journalists were shown the factory shop, where Herons and ground-based control centers are assembled.
Then the journalists could see a promotion clip on how the tree arms of the service counter threats. IAI’s Nir Tel-Oren said this was the first time this film was being shown to foreign audiences. He also said that IAI’s total sales had exceeded $3 billion last year, with exports accounting for 80 percent. Moreover, he added, orders are now worth more than $10 billion. In his words, IAI took part in the European Commission’s THALOS project in compliance with Chapter 7 that envisages immigration control on the Polish-Ukrainian border. “We offered a computerized control system and are waiting now for the next step in the implementation of this project,” Tel-Oren said.
In his words, Israeli defense companies are chary about selling their own products – in particular, they take into account relations between the countries, if one of them is the prospective recipient of their products. He noted that Israel does not supply defense items to Pakistan with due account of its relations with India. Commenting on the press reports that quote Transparency International as saying that there is a high risk of corruption in defense companies of the world, including Israel, Tel-Oren emphasized: “Under the law, permission to sell is given by the Ministry of Defense, and we comply with proper regulations – we even have an ethics officer.” At the same time, he focused on the key word – risk – and said that this does not mean the real existence of corruption.
What made the strongest impression on the journalists was visiting the IAI Space Division. The division’s general manager, Ofer Doron, not only spoke about space projects but also showed where the VENmS satellite and its components are being assembled and tested. It will be recalled that it is a joint project of the Israeli and French space agencies. The satellite will be put into orbit by an Israeli launch vehicle. And the most unexpected thing was to see President Shimon Peres of Israel touching the nano-satellite. Doron said they had failed to warn the president in good time that it is forbidden to touch this satellite with a hand.
And perhaps the most interesting point is that Israel Aerospace Industries is guided by the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi or, to be more exact, the following words: “A consumer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us we are on him. He is not an interruption to our work; he is the purpose of it. We are not doing a favor to a consumer by giving him an opportunity. He is doing us a favor by giving an opportunity to serve him.”
IAI’s values are shown in the shape of a triangle, in which the customer is the vertex, while people and innovations/technologies are on the sides a) and b), respectively.