Israel seeking international cooperation in export plans

Paris Air Show » 2005
December 15, 2006, 9:59 AM

An impressive array of innovative, advanced and sophisticated products and systems mark a significant increase in Israel’s presence at the Paris Air Show this year. A new pavilion accommodates Israel’s 12 leading defense companies, while an array of products for civilian markets are also featured.

Last month, Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), Elbit and Rafael announced the formation of Aeronautics & Space Industries of Israel, an organization intended to promote cooperative aerospace research-and-development programs with international partners. Other Israeli aerospace and related companies are expected to join later and this move is in line with the nation’s policy of focusing on international cooperation to provide defense equipment both for the country’s armed forces and to produce equipment for export.

Israel is an acknowledged leader in such fields as armor protection, electronics and electro-optics, UAVs and mini-UAVs, sensors and radar, command and control and more. Many of the products and systems on display here in Paris have been battle tested.

The new pavilion was designed by the Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute (IEIC), which, for the first time at the show, is promoting business meetings between Israeli companies and decision-makers from Europe.

Clearly, Israel will independently maintain its edge in specific areas, such as drones, some types of missiles and upgrades for older fighter aircraft.

Although a major player in passenger-to-cargo airliner conversions, Israel’s aerospace industry is closely linked to the nation’s political situation and so is very defense-oriented. After a peak of defense spending at 35 percent of its gross national product (GNP) in 1975 during the time of the Yom Kippur war, the defense budget gradually leveled off to about 10 percent over the last few years, of which the U.S. taxpayer contributes at least one-fifth.

This amounts to a total of some $12 billion, but Israel exports about $3 billion worth of defense equipment per year and its economists estimate that the country can live with defense expenditures amounting to 10 percent of GNP. Any more than this would hamper economic growth and push up unemployment beyond acceptable levels. Israel’s defense budget compares with about 6 to 7 percent of the GNP in the U.S. and a European average of 3 percent.  

Israeli defense forces closely monitor any suspect movement in surrounding countries, which explains the industry’s expertise in drones and reconnaissance systems.

Defense industry’s projects have followed the curve of defense expenditure. After ambitious programs–like the successor to the Mirage Kfir and later the Lavi fighter program–terminated in the early 1990s, Israel’s aerospace industry increasingly had to concentrate its efforts on cooperative programs with other nations and a few national developments in specific areas. The state-controlled Rafael defense research and development group and IAI have been transformed into private stock companies, although with the government as sole shareholder for the time being, to enable participation in international joint ventures. Official policy is to focus government-sponsored research on innovative systems based on available technology to minimize risk.

On the civilian side, IAI has successfully continued the Westwind/Astra family of executive jets, taken over from Rockwell in the 1970s. The successor of that line is the G150, marketed worldwide by Gulfstream Aerospace.

Elbit UAV Success

Recent export successes of Israel’s aerospace industry include the selection of Elbit’s Hermes 180 and Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles for Britain’s Watchkeeper program. Both will be license-built in the UK. Other UAVs offered by Elbit include the very light Skylark man-pack close-range reconnaissance system and the Hermes 1500, which was designed for heavy loads and long-endurance missions and now includes a maritime patrol and reconnaissance variant.

IAI’s Malat Division has also developed various UAVs, including the Searcher II, Ranger, Hunter, Heron and the very light I-View. Earlier versions of the Searcher have been sold to various export customers, the Ranger is license-manufactured in Switzerland and the Hunter is license-produced in Belgium. The 1,100-kg-mtow  Hunter has demonstrated an endurance of 52 hours.

In the field of missiles, IAI achieved a resounding success with its sea-skimming Gabriel missile, in production since the 1960s. The company offers various defense systems based on that technology and other missiles.

Fighter upgrading is another Israeli specialty. Both IAI and Elbit offer upgrades and refurbishing of fighter aircraft and combat helicopters, the most popular upgrade candidates being the F-4, F-5 and older F-16s. A cockpit modernization for the MiG-29 is also promoted by Elbit to upgrade the platform to Sniper configuration. This incorporates a host of new features delivering superior performance capabilities.

IAI also has a program to upgrade Russian Mi-8 and MI-17 assault and attack helicopters, while Elbit has upgraded a batch of venerable MiG-21 Fishbeds for the Romanian air force. Elbit also offers a much-improved flight deck for the MiG-29, although no contract has been signed to date. Elbit was originally an electronics company and now offers a comprehensive array of field communication equipment up to complete C4I systems.

Plasan Sasa Protection

Among the wide range of products and services featured in the new pavilion are safety, perimeter security and protection equipment produced by Alisra, Controp and Plasan Sasa. The variety of ballistic armored solutions offered by Plasan Sasa include protection kits for all types of helicopters, as well as for the C-130 Hercules.

Elbit, Rafael, Elisra and Aeronautics are among the growing number of UAV and
related equipment suppliers, while guidance kits that convert bombs from “dumb” to “smart” mode are the specialty of Rafael, a company that is also active in the provision of airborne EW systems.

Elisra produces passive and active protection suits for combat aircraft and helicopters, including the SPS-65 system, recently ordered to upgrade helicopters that will be deployed in high-tension areas where air-to-air and ground-to-air threats abound.

Tadiran Spectralink is part of the Elisra group that is a source for advanced data links for UAVs. These have the capability to disseminate pictures down to the single trooper, tank crew and helicopter, while integrating them within the information network. Airborne equipment and avionics items include passive protection systems from Elisra. S.G.D. Engineering is in the business of upgrading Sikorsky Black Hawk and Bell Cobra helicopters, as well as converting the CN 235 into an observation aircraft.

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