How Israeli Defense Firms Began to Dominate Central Europe
Israeli defense companies have made great strides in getting access to new customers and turning a profit with several Central European countries.
Slovakia’s Minister of Defense is acquiring Israeli radar and the Czech Republic is putting Israel’s BIRD Aerosystems’ unique defense technology on its helicopters. The two deals announced in late March both represent increased interest in Israeli defense systems by key countries in central and eastern Europe. Across Europe, Israel has seen success and interest in its systems, from Spike anti-tank missiles to software defined radios. Israel’s three defense giants, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries have all been successful on the continent and in the United Kingdom.
On March 25, Israel’s Ministry of Defense announced the key radar deal. Slovakia’s interest in the Israeli radar, which is built by Elta, a subsidiary of IAI, builds on the Czech acquisition of the ELM-2084 multi-mission radar in 2019. This is the same radar known for success with Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. According to the details of the Slovak decision Israel will deliver 17 radar systems from IAI to the Slovak Ministry of Defense in an agreement worth over $170 million dollars. Israel’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz praised the deal. “Today we have reached a significant milestone in the growing cooperation between Israeli and Slovak defense industries. The new agreement first and foremost provides Slovakia with high-quality, advanced systems to maintain their national security, while also strengthening defense industries and creating many new jobs in Israel and Slovakia,” he said.
The Slovak Minister of Defense said that said he highly valued the positive impact of this cooperation on the bilateral ties between our countries in the field of defense and security. “I do believe we now have a solid basis for our next cooperation.” It is the first of its kind agreement between the countries. The agreement includes the transfer of technology and knowledge from Israel to Slovakia, as well as industrial cooperation, Israel says. “The radar components will be manufactured in collaboration with defense industries in Slovakia, under the professional guidance of IAI and the Ministry of Defense.”
Israel’s defense export authority, SIBAT, sees the agreement as taking relations to the next level.
Yair Kulas, head of SIBAT said that the signing of this radar agreement will contribute greatly to both countries. “We thank the Slovak Government for its confidence in the Ministry of Defense and our excellent defense industries and look forward to further cooperation in both the defense and civilian arenas.” IAI pointed out that more than 150 of these radars have been sold globally. The advanced technology will also aid Europe in general by providing better coverage and defense that can be integrated into North Atlantic Treaty Organization activities.
Israel’s IAI sees the radars as their flagship. “The radar detects airborne threats, classifies them, calculates their threat level and provides essential data that enables systems to neutralize multiple threats simultaneously. In addition, these radar systems will be interoperable with NATO defense mechanisms,” the company says.
Alongside that deal the BIRD deal with Czech is also important. It is part of the Czech Republic’s upgrade of its air force and its fleet of Mi-17s. BIRD is the leading developer of Airborne Missile Protection Systems (AMPS) and Airborne Surveillance, Information, and Observation (ASIO) solutions. It said on March 23 that it had been awarded a new contract by the Czech Republic. “Under the contract, BIRD Aerosystems will provide additional AMPS-MV systems with the patented MACS (Missile Approach Confirmation Sensor) for the Czech Air Force Mi-17 fleet. This project is a part of the overall modernization of the Czech Mi-17 transport helicopter fleet,” the company said. The AMPS system is already operational on the Mi-17 helicopters. It has also been used by similar helicopters elsewhere, including in Afghanistan.
“This contract comes after BIRD Aerosystems has conducted an overall upgrade to the Czech’s existing AMPS systems earlier this year, which provided enhanced functionality to the MILDS UV detection sensors and the MCDU Mission computers,” the company said. The system ensures no false alarms in detecting threats to aircraft and helicopters. This means defense systems only react when there is a real threat.
“We appreciate the confidence placed in our AMPS solution by the Czech Air Force, who decided to purchase additional systems for its Mi-17 fleet. Equipped with BIRD’s AMPS-MV solution with the MACS sensor, they can rest assured knowing that their aircraft and crew are safe even when flying in automatic mode in the most complicated conflict zones,” said Ronen Factor, Co-Chief Executive Officer and Founder at BIRD Aerosystems.
AMPS provides protection against all surface to air missiles as well as against man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) and lasers. “The AMPS system automatically detects, verifies, and foil missile attacks through the effective use of countermeasure decoys (Flares and Chaff) that jam the missile’s IR seeker and protect the aircraft,” says the company.
The two deals in key central European countries are part of a wider inroad Israel is making. In Poland, Israel’s Rafael is offering a solution for the country’s tank destroyer program. In Spain, Israel’s Elbit has been selected to supply radios. Finally, Rafael also recently sold its Trophy tank defense system to Germany.
Seth J. Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based journalist who holds a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and a writing fellow at Middle East Forum. He is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (forthcoming Gefen Publishing). Follow him on Twitter at @sfrantzman.