Will the War in Ukraine Give a Boost to Israeli Defense Exports?

Will the War in Ukraine Give a Boost to Israeli Defense Exports?

Amid the fallout of Russia’s war against Ukraine, there are growing signs that acquisitions of Israeli defense products by European clients could substantially increase.

 

As European states reassess their security situation amid the fallout of Russia’s war against Ukraine, there are growing signs that acquisitions of Israeli defense products by European clients—and not only European clients—could substantially increase.

In 2021, according to defense ministry figures, Europe was the largest importer of Israeli defense technology. Overall exports hit a new record of $11.3 billion that year, with Europe accounting for 41 percent of that figure.

 

However, for this to increase further, European defense budgets will need to rise as well. The extent to which this will happen depends significantly on whether European states develop comprehensive defense strategies.

Such strategies go much further than decisions on defense budget increases.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz was one of the biggest opponents of former U.S. president Donald Trump’s insistence that NATO states allocate 2 percent of their GDP to defense. Now, Scholz has pledged to create a 100 billion euro defense fund and exceed the 2 percent threshold. But will this commitment last into the long-term? It is too soon to answer that question. Meanwhile, the annual defense budget that Scholz is proposing relies upon a gradual increase, not an immediate jump.

The second key question about Israeli defense exports to Europe relates to Israeli portfolio adaptability. Are the lessons now emerging from the Russo-Ukrainian War relevant to Israeli defense company specialty areas in a manner that favors specific products from Israel?

The answer to this is more complex than meets the eye. The United States, for example, can easily supply Ukraine with anti-tank Javelin missiles or Stinger man-portable air defense systems by taking them out of U.S. military storage sites or from storage facilities allocated for allies. Israel is not in the same situation.

While Rafael has been able to mass produce Spike missiles for European clients (Euro Spike), Israeli UAV makers must produce systems from scratch, as is the case with most Israeli defense exports.

Israeli defense companies’ repertoire is generally strongest regarding suites for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance requirements, but not the platforms themselves.

Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance elements such as radars, on the other hand, are easier for Israeli companies to supply in significant numbers.

Additionally, some of the battlefield lessons emerging from Ukraine have changed since Russia launched its offensive in February. At the start of the war, songs of praise were written for Turkey’s Bayraktar TB-2 armed UAVs from the medium-altitude long-endurance category. Yet the limited release of video footage of Bayraktar strikes is a testimony of the limited and sporadic use of this system (unlike the Azeri use of the Bayraktar against Armenian forces in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war).

In the skies, Russia effectively controls the medium to high altitudes while neutralizing armed UAVs. It is reasonable to assume that Israeli-made lightweight UAVs or loitering munitions will perform in this environment.

Both Russia and Ukraine have abandoned the low-altitude arena. For Russia, this means precision strike and ground support fire capabilities were largely lost, and Russia reverted to artillery strikes and high-altitude air strikes conducted by powerful assault helicopters and fighter jets.

These trends reveal three things regarding Israel’s defense industry. The first is the growing need for standoff weapons, enabling warfighters to avoid getting too close to the ranges of enemy firepower.

Additionally, there is a growing need for advanced soft and hard kill active defense suites for various platforms, such as tanks and helicopters. 

Thirdly, air defense requirements are diverse. The Ukrainians have a multitude of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, and not all warfighters are covered under a medium-long-range air defense umbrella.

Thus, it is unsurprising that Germany and others are showing interest in Israeli missile defense systems like the Arrow program and airborne balloon-carrying radar systems, which can detect cruise missiles and UAVs better than ground-based radars.

Meanwhile, the role of precision surface-to-surface rockets is increasing in the war, as the United States and the United Kingdom supply the Ukrainians with such systems, for example, the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS). Even though their numbers are small so far, their influence is highly significant.

Russia failed to achieve its objectives in the cyber sphere, causing limited damage to Ukraine. Ukraine’s communications networks, water, electricity, and transportation are working—which underlines the central importance of cyber defense systems.

Electronic warfare is undoubtedly growing more influential as the war progresses.

These are the essential lessons that Israel’s defense industry can take away from the war raging in Europe.

Yair Ramati is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. In 2016, he concluded his four year service as Director of IMDO, the government agency charged with the development, production, and the delivery of missile defense systems including: Iron Dome, David's Sling and the Arrow weapons system.

Yaakov Lappin is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute He provides insight and analysis for a number of media outlets, including JNS.org and a leading global military affairs magazine Jane's Defense Weekly.

Image: Reuters.