Israel: Now One of the World's Top Military Weapons Manufacturers?

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February 1, 2021 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: IsraelIDFArms SalesAmericaIndia

Israel: Now One of the World's Top Military Weapons Manufacturers?

Could 2021 be a golden year of profits for high-tech Israeli defense companies?

Israeli defense technology is being increasingly incorporated by militaries from Asia to Europe. A series of defense deals by Israel and technology presented at Aero India in February 2021 illustrate how Israel’s new weapons are transforming the world of war. 

In late January Boaz Levy, the CEO of Israel Aerospace Industries, said that his company sees India as one of its main partners. “This valued partnership is characterized by long-term cooperation, joint development and manufacturing, technology transfer and technical support over decades.” Israel’s IAI, one of its three defense giants, recently conducted a successful trial in India with its Medium-Range Surface-to-Air Missile (MRSAM) air defense system. IAI has made more than $5 billion in deals in India in the last five years. The company works closely to tailor its products to the “make in India” approach that New Delhi has pushed, meaning partnering with local companies. IAI is now showcasing its success in drones to the Indian market and countries that attend Aero India.

In some ways IAI’s current success with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is part of its legacy with drones, which it pioneered in the 1970s and 1980s when it first built the IAI Scout. Today drones are getting renewed attention after the war in Azerbaijan where the country used Israeli and Turkish drones with success. IAI makes the Mini Harpy, Rotem, as well as the larger Heron TP and Thunder B VTOL. Harpy is a type of loitering munition which means it is a cross between a drone and a cruise missile, loitering over a target or seeking out a target and then flying into it. IAI also sold its Heron MKII UAV to an unnamed central Asian country in January 2021. Hovering at up to 35,000 feet, the advanced UAV can fly for up to forty-five hours collecting communications and electronic intelligence alongside its usual surveillance capability. 

Meanwhile Israel’s Elbit Systems said on January 26 that it would be supplying an unnamed country in Asia with light tanks, a deal valued at $172 million. Israeli companies often don’t reveal all the specifics of countries they sell to. The tanks being supplied are called “Sabrah” tanks, a Hebrew name that refers to a cactus which is tough on the outside and sweet on the inside. The tanks are based on a General Dynamics European Land Systems vehicle. It will be thirty-tons and combine a 105mm turret with a series of Elbit supplied technology and systems. Elbit sees the tank as part of its strong position in the armored vehicle market. In Israel, Elbit and other companies are working on a future armored fighting vehicle that will combine the latest technology and may be optionally manned or have a two-person crew. Israeli companies generally excel not at making whole large platforms but on all the applications and capabilities that can be added to vehicles or planes to give them better defenses and better optics and sensors. For instance, Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems makes the Trophy system that defends U.S. tanks from threats.

Elbit is also at Aero India with Rampage air-to-ground guided missiles, the Delilah long-range air-to-ground loitering missile and helicopter rocket launchers. In addition, Elbit is showcasing the LIZARD family of Laser/GPS Guidance Kits general purpose bombs, the MPR 500 multi-purpose rigid penetration and surface attack bomb as well as protection systems for planes and enhanced vision systems for helicopters. With countries in Asia seeking to modernize ground and air forces, these systems are well suited for a variety of states. Israeli companies are also attending IDEX in Abu Dhabi for the first time this year, potentially opening the door to lucrative Gulf defense budgets. Gulf countries are some of the biggest global spenders on new defense technology. 

In Europe, Elbit also is supplying the United Kingdom with its future target acquisition solution for Joint Terminal Attack Controllers and Fire Support Teams under the Dismounted Joint Fires Integrators (D-JFI) program for the British Armed Forces. A $127 million five-year contract was announced in January. Elbit’s HattoriX, a lightweight target acquisition system for forward observers that uses artificial intelligence was also showcased to eight western European countries since its debut in 2018. It is used by Israel’s IDF since 2019. I saw the system when it was first rolled out. With optics and a touch screen pad, the operator can send coordinates of enemy positions easily. “The capability demonstrations in Europe were performed in urban locations and in open fields, in both day and night, simulating a variety of operational scenarios. During the demonstrations, users had the opportunity to experiment, firsthand, with the capability to passively and rapidly acquire Category 1 targets (Target Location error of few a meters), facilitating effective engagement of Time Sensitive Targets,” Elbit says. 

The Slovenian Armed Forces recently fired Rafael’s Spike long range anti-tank missile from an Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). This came days before U.S. forces did a live-fire drill with a Spike SR or short range missile. The Spike missile family is widely sold by Rafael already to thirty-five countries, including nineteen North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries. Used widely in Europe, there have been 33,000 Spike missiles sold and some 6,000 fired. The Israeli defense company sees the long-range version of Spike as a force multiplier for mobilized land forces with a range of 5.5 kilometers “enabling precision strike against armored targets with improved precision at extended ranges and beyond-line-of-sight.” Slovenia will get several dozen Oshkosh vehicles from the United States in 2021. They could be equipped with Israel’s fifth-generation missiles. From India to Slovenia, Israel’s defense footprint looks to grow in 2021. 

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 the Middle East Forum. He is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (Gefen Publishing) and Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Forthcoming Bombardier Books). Follow him on Twitter at @sfrantzman.

Image: Reuters.