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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

02 June 2015

Safeguarding Israel's Qualitative Military Edge

For over 60 years Israel has stood in the face of enemies surrounding its borders and has fought several wars. Whether confronting a nuclear rival in the form of Iran, terrorist and rocket attacks inside its territory, dealing with conflicts over its various disputed territories, and continuing constant readiness against the effects of multiple conflicts in the region, its military advances continue apace.

Israeli soldiers during Operation “Brothers' Keeper” 2014 armed with Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) Micro-TAVOR. (All photos via author)

Advances in Israel’s considerable indigenous military arms production industry have been greatly driven by such continual and perennial circumstances. In January 2015, the Israeli military strengthened its forces on the northern border with Syria; tensions had been (and still are) high since the heavily armed militant group Hezbollah (mainly responsible for launching rockets into Israeli territory at regular intervals) and its Iranian patrons charged that Israel carried out a raid on Syria that killed militants from the Lebanese group and an Iranian general. Additional Israeli infantry and artillery units were deployed to the north, along with more IRON DOME rocket-defence batteries, and the Air Force's mandatory response time was shortened.

Just one recent example of this readiness was an unannounced two-day drill begun in March on the West Bank, with the mobilisation of about 13,000 reserves in two full-scale training operations covering the entire West Bank region and involving air, armoured and artillery forces. Soldiers will train for possible kidnapping and arrest scenarios in the first such surprise drill in three years aimed at testing the readiness of reservists for a possible escalation of tensions. Several lone terrorist attacks have recently occurred, such as car-ramming incidents becoming popular with lone attackers. On 6 March, a Palestinian militant drove a car into a crowd near the entrance of a border police base in central Jerusalem, injuring seven people, including several border guards. Also in Jerusalem, in November 2014 two terrorists killed five and wounded seven in a synagogue.

In early March, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terminated a long-standing security cooperation agreement with Israel that originated in the 1993 Oslo Accords. This will end intelligence-sharing on militant groups such as Hamas and is viewed as a response to Israel's decision to cut tax transfers, which are a key source of funding for the Palestinian Authority (PA) after the PA’s decision to join the International Criminal Court in January.
Israeli F-15 refuelling.

Small State, Big Exporter

Even with its territorial acquisitions, Israel is very small, while being the world’s largest per capita exporter of weapons. By 2012, Israeli arms exports had reached a peak of U$7 billion. When marketing their products abroad, Israeli defence companies have the advantage of claiming they have been tested in actual combat. Aside from the vagaries of US-Israel relations, Israel’s defence industry, like the country, continues close cooperation with its US equivalents and has bought sophisticated US weaponry to maintain a qualitative advantage over its potentially hostile Arab neighbours.

Israel Air Force HERCULES.

US Dependence

Some observers have suggested that Israel has been over-reliant on advanced US systems at the expense of greater self-sufficiency in its defence system developments. The US provides funding for Israel’s missile defences, including the IRON DOME interceptors (see box) for fending off Hamas rockets from Gaza. Since 2011, US Congress has appropriated more than $1.2 billion for IRON DOME. This is separate from the annual $3.1 billion from the US to Israel for it to buy weapons through the budget for the State Department and foreign operations.

IRON DOME at a Glance: The IRON DOME is a prime example of an indigenously developed and manufactured defence system. Developed by Rafael as the only dual mission counter rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) and Very Short Range Air Defence (VSHORAD) system to intercept short-range rockets with ranges of up to and over 70km, mortar shells, and aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, and PGMs (precision-guided munitions), it was first deployed in the south in 2011 to intercept GRAD rockets from the Gaza Strip. Using cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and detonate their warheads, its specific elements are a Mobile detection and tracking radar, a Battle Management and Control Unit, sensors, and a Mobile Missile Firing Unit (MFU) with 20 TAMIR interceptors. It is a prime example of a defence system that has to be deployed quite often at short notice in real time. It may indeed be kept busy in the coming years; according to Israeli press reports in March, a senior Hamas commander announced that the group intends to double its arsenal of rockets and missiles. (Photo: Rafael)

In February and for the second consecutive year, Israel requested an increase of $317 million in US President Barack Obama’s budget request from Congress in funding for Israel’s missile defence programmes. The request would provide first-time production funds for DAVID’s SLING and the ARROW missile defence programmes. Israel is requesting $35 million for initial production of ARROW 3 on top of the $55.7 million the US administration is seeking for development.
Funding for Israel’s missile defence systems can also result in Israel using US defence contractors, having had IRON DOME built solely as an indigenous system by Rafael. In 2014, the Israeli government agreed to spend more than half the funds provided by the US DoD for IRON DOME - in the US. This has ironically coincided with a decline in US-Israel relations, highlighted by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on 3 March that railed against the US administration’s planned nuclear deal with Iran.

Regional Conflicts 

There is also possible ‘conflicts of interests’ in a growing market among Middle Eastern countries, such as Jordan, aligning themselves against Islamic State (IS), and purchasing high-tech systems from the US, which the Israelis have in the past worried could be used against their forces – such as advanced AW&C systems which could detect Israeli aircraft.

However, this may be changing, as Israeli officials have urged the US to arm the Jordanians and Iraqi Kurds in their fight against IS in Iraq and Syria, and Egypt in its own fight against IS in the Sinai. And Israel has itself received requests from Iraqi Yazidis for arms and training. But the Israelis stop short of highly sophisticated systems to Middle Eastern states and groups fighting IS, such as anti-ship missiles and Russian-made ground-to-air S-300 missiles; the Israelis bombed military targets in Syria in August 2014 in an attempt to stop Hezbollah gaining access to S-300s.

Many critics of Israel and other observers say that Gaza in particular is an ongoing theatre and a ‘laboratory’ for the IDF to try out weapons systems or gain experience from ones in service. There is no doubt that such wars are costly for the Israeli economy. But the experience of Israel fighting asymmetric wars in recent times has set many defence products and innovations onto the world stage especially in the great number of countries which face terrorism and unrest.

This Israeli made UGV is one of Israel's most important weapons on its border with Gaza. Equipped with 360° cameras, the GUARDIUM is conserving IDF soldier's lives.

World Leaders, New Markets

Israel has many homegrown hi-tech industries that specialise in military technology. These companies are taking advantage of the move by some countries to develop their own indigenous industries, most notably, India. VADM (Ret.) Yedidia Yaari, President and CEO of Rafael said: “This enables us to exploit one of our major advantages as a developer – our ability to cooperate, transfer know how and support local production…

At Aero India 2015, Rafael showcased C-DOME, a compact naval air defence system, superior versions of the LITENING targeting pods and RECCELITE reconnaissance systems, as well as advanced C3 recently selected for the Indian Air Force. This has followed the restructuring of Rafael into three divisions – Land and Naval Systems Division, Air and C4ISR Systems Division and Air Dominance Division.

Star Wars: IRON BEAM

The IDF is expected to deploy IRON BEAM - as the world’s first laser-based air defence system to shoot down Hamas rockets. IRON BEAM will use a laser to target and short-range rockets, artillery shells, and mortar bombs with trajectories too small for the IRON DOME anti-rocket batteries to engage and intercept. According to Rafael, the new system is the result of five years of R&D in solid-state lasers. First revealed at the 2014 Singapore Air Show, IRON BEAM is the fifth layer or element of the air defence system and is modified for multiple lasers each capable of striking multiple targets.


The ARROW-3 Upper Tier system is an upgrade of the existing ARROW Weapon System to intercept longer-range ballistic missiles. ARROW is a central component in Israel’s multi-layered defence system and is based on five layers: IRON DOME, DAVID’s SLING, the operational ARROW 2 system, the BNEI RESHEF system against ballistic missiles, and the ARROW 3 interceptor.

The ARROW has endured failed tests and delays while DAVID’s SLING has progressed well. In February, the MoD admitted that in a test in September 2014 of the ARROW 2, the missile missed its target despite locking on. It turned out, however, that the interceptor missile did indeed pass very close by the target missile – but failed to hit it. During a further test in December of the ARROW 3, the missile could not lock on to its target, so the launch was aborted for safety concerns. The problem with the ARROW 2 has been repaired.

The DAVID’s SLING Weapon System is designed to fire STUNNER interceptors against large-calibre artillery rockets, cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles. The system is believed to be of critical importance for home front defence, specifically against Hezbollah. DAVID’s SLING integrates powerful Multi Mission Radar (MMR), a battle management and control system, launcher, and the STUNNER interceptor missile.

The STUNNER missile is the result of Rafael, the main contractor of the programme, subcontracting Raytheon for the co-development of the interceptor and the missile component of DAVID’s SLING. Raytheon is also responsible for the development and production of the launch system of DAVID’s SLING, the missile firing unit (MFU). The STUNNER integrates into DAVID’s SLING and bridges the gap between IRON DOME, which gives protection in range of 4-7km, and the ARROW 2 shield against long-range ballistic missiles.

The STUNNER acquires information on a missile warning from onboard sensors and off-board sensors such as national airspace control radars. As a two-stage missile, it is equipped with a rocket motor, which issues the first two motor pulses to drive the missile in its mid-course flight, then activates a third pulse once the intercept course is determined - to increase speed to maximise the impact of interception. The Battle Management and Control (BMC) system predicts the path of the target and calculates the interception point. Stunner uses a data link to communicate with the ground station and DAVID’s SLING launch unit can hold 16 missiles at a time.

DAVID’s SLING will undergo further testing in the coming months which, if successful, the system will become operational in 2016. The IRON DOME system, too, has undergone various upgrades and is now better equipped to deal with long- and short-range threats.

Aircraft Systems

In February, IAI announced the completion of all test flights for the M-19HD multi-sensor system for aircraft. The system, which has been test-flown on both manned and unmanned aircraft, is a high-definition, compact, multi-spectral, multi-sensor, single line-replacement unit payload that can accommodate up to seven sensors at once.

Designed to reduce the operator's workload and improve situational awareness through a multi-mode automatic video tracker, the M-19HD also provides accurate geo-location using an embedded inertial measurement unit/GPS. According to IAI the M-19HD can conduct day and night surveillance under all weather conditions, and has the acquisition range is excellent due to powerful sensors, high-stabilization and unique image-processing capabilities.
India is set to order two additional PHALCON AEW&C aircraft from IAI, along with four aerostat-borne radars, as part of a $1.5 billion buy. 


Elbit Systems has developed many highly advanced C4I systems for the IDF. In January, it won contracts worth $117 million to supply C4I systems for the IDF over a six-year period. This forms the next generation of the Digital Army Project (DAP), which sets out to computerise all operations in the land forces, connecting all field and command echelons into a central data network. Elbit will also develop communications systems and wide band radio systems. There is also a $54-million contract awarded by the MoD to supply and maintain advanced electro-optics (EO) systems.


Israel has become one of India's top three arms suppliers, specifically, in ship defence missiles and UAVs. It is supplying the advanced systems that are critical for the effective operation of India’s main platforms. The Indian Modi nationalist party has for some time begun to court Israel as an ally to supply the means to counter militant Islamic groups.

Partnerships between their respective companies include the formation of a Joint Venture Company between Rafael and the Kalyani Group, with the Israeli company having won a contract to supply more than 8,000 SPIKE anti-tank guided missiles for the Indian Army and including technology transfer to India, which will in turn enhance its indigenous capabilities. The Israeli missile was selected rather than the US JAVELIN as the SPIKE opened up possibilities for local production and technology transfer, which are of considerable importance for Indian procurement policy.

India has also planned to buy two Israeli PHALCON advanced AEW&C systems made by IAI for the Indian Air Force, in a record $800 million contract between the two countries (see next paragraph).

In March, India’s MoD confirmed that he Indian Navy is to equip its frontline warships with the Israeli BARAK-8 medium-range shipborne air defence (MRSAM) by the end of 2015. It will be jointly developed by Rafael and IAI with Indian companies Bharat Dynamics, Tata Power, SED, and Larsen & Turbo on a $1.5-billion order. This is the result of a joint development agreement between the two countries in 2006 to create a new-generation BARAK-NG missile based on the BARAK-1 system in service with both Navies, out of which the counterpart MRSAM project evolved to develop a medium range SAM for use with India’s land forces. The BARAK was successfully test-fired in November 2014 and 32 of the missiles will be fitted first on the missile destroyer INS KOLKATA, commissioned in July 2014. In two contracts worth over $600 million, the Indians have ordered 262 BARAK I missiles for 14 ships that presently lack missile systems, delivery scheduled for December 2015.

Israel is also involved in providing and integrating India’s avionics and sensors for its jet fighters, helicopters, armoured fighting vehicles, naval vessels, and submarines. Systems involve represent state of the art military technology: Air to air missiles, helmet mounted sights, radars, precision guided weapons and targeting pods, digital displays and avionic modules for modernised glass cockpits, and advanced electronic warfare systems.

Israel Showcases Innovation at Aero India 2015

Showing its wide range of special mission aircraft at the latest edition of Aero India, Israel Aerospace Industries' (IAI) ELTA Systems is pursuing new orders in the ISR segment. "Selling the systems of tomorrow," Deputy General Manager Marketing, Business Development and Sales Avishai Izhakian explained that besides the ELI-3360 MPA offering that is available for both executive jet and turboprop aircraft such as the Bombardier Global 5000 and Dash 8 Q400, there is also the ELI-3001 Airborne Integrated Signal Intelligence System (AISIS).

Complementing the ELI-3150 SAR/GMTI Multi-Mission Airborne Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (MARS2), ELI-3001 leverages technology that is used in the SIGINT equipped Gulfstream 550s that are in operational service with the Israeli Air Force.

Meanwhile, IAI ELTA's ELW-2090 AEW&C package builds on experience that was first gained when upgrading Boeing 707s for Chile with conformal radar arrays, with this system being known as the PHALCON. ELW-2090 is IAI ELTA's third generation AEW&C system, installed on the Ilyushin Il-76. Used for wide area persistent radar coverage, the Il-76 based solution is operated by India where it will be supplemented by the new indigenous AEW&C system based on the Embraer EMB145 platform that is about to enter service. Fitted with three AESA L-band radar arrays in a massive dome on top of the Il-76 transport aircraft, ELW-2090 offers 360° coverage with accurate 3D tracks, low false alarm rates, ECCM and programmable search and track regimes.
For the first time at Aero India, Rafael showcased its new SPICE-250 precision guided munition (PGM) and the C-DOME naval point air defence system. SPICE-250 is the latest addition to the SPICE family of PGMs, being a stand-off air-to-ground gliding bomb that uses Rafael's self developed scene matching technology for terminal guidance. Whereas SPICE-1000 and SPICE-2000 are respectively kits for 1,000lbs pounds Mk-83 class and 2,000lbs Mk-84 class munitions, one of which can be carried on a standard ejector rack, the latest kit turns the smaller and lighter Mk-81 class free falling bomb into a highly accurate stand-off weapon. Like SPICE-1000, the latest member of Rafael's PGM family of gliding bombs is fitted with a folding wing and has an effective range of approximately 100 kilometres. The larger 2,000lbs variant has a fixed wing with a range of 60km being reached.

The C-DOME naval point defence system consists of a multi-round launcher assembly loaded with vertically launched canisterised interceptors. The launcher is installed under the ship deck and can handle saturation attacks by engaging multiple targets simultaneously with all interceptors ready for instant firing. Integrated with the ships's combat management system, the system has two launch modes that enable automatic and semi-automatic engagements with C-DOME using the ship's surveillance radar for detection. The interceptor used is the combat proven IRON DOME ,which has been used during 1200 C-RAM and VSHORAD interceptions.

A leading systems integrator for special mission aircraft (SMA), S.G.D. Engineering is pursuing new business opportunities during Aero India 2015. The company's engineering skills span from concept phase to fielding and may include design, testing, installation, integration and certification of modifications, electrical systems, avionics, environmental systems, mock ups and airframes. It also offers a wide range of mission systems that are integrated in cooperation with major defence companies or through subcontractors. These include personnel locator systems (PLS), EWSP systems, ballistic protection and optical surveillance systems. In addition, S.G.D. Engineering works on communications systems, cooling systems, radars and radomes.

Japan – A New Market

Israel is looking even further east – to Japan. Tokyo is interested in Israel’s military industries to enhance its defence capabilities, especially to counter an increasingly belligerent North Korea. Israel’s defence exports to several countries in Europe and North America have fallen partly due to budget cuts and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. So Israel turned to Asia – including, as well as India – Singapore (where IAI subsidiary Elta opened a new R&D cyber security centre in 2014), South Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam to market its advanced weapons systems. In 2013, Israel exports to the Far East amounted to $3.91 billion compared with $4 billion in 2012.
Israel has already expanded relations with South Korea and China, and bilateral relations with Japan have also improved since reciprocal visits and enhanced cooperation not only in defence, but also in cyber security, science and technology - although exports are still catching up with imports: In 2013, imports of $1.1 billion exceeded Israeli exports to Japan totalling $0.72 billion. Clouding this is Japan’s close links with oil-producing Middle Eastern countries and its continuing support for the Palestinians (and opposed Israel’s military actions in Gaza in 2014). But these are common stances of governments of other countries already doing business with Israeli’s defence industry.

Andy Oppenheimer is an UK-based analyst in CBRNE and counterterrorism, and a regular contributor to MT.
Pieter Bastiaans is a Netherlands based regular reporter for MT.

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