Seventy years ago, just after the surviving architects of the Holocaust faced grim justice at Nuremberg, a few hundred thousand idealists – many refugees from post-war Europe’s ruins and committed to creating a Jewish homeland in the Holy Land – established the state of Israel. At first, the new nation relied on collective farming, but the arrival of many professionals, a commitment to a high-class education system, and the need to create a self-sufficient military capability helped transform Israel by the close of the 20th century into a high-tech economy with one of the most sophisticated aerospace and defence sectors in the world.

A tour of some of the key players in Israel’s aerospace and defence industry highlights just a handful of the capabilities that Israel has brought to fruition. While many of its most potent and sensitive technologies remain state secrets, many others – for the military, security and commercial sectors – are offered for export. And with a growing cluster of high-tech start-ups in cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa, Israel’s established defence companies are keen to harness some of that entrepreneurial spirit to branch out into other emerging markets.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is tapping into the “start-up nation” ethos by launching what it calls its Hangar Labs. The company is inviting technology developers to pitch ideas aligned to commercial aviation that IAI might support. The best ones will be offered support to seed their ideas by being able to access IAI facilities. “We are not talking about buying them or even taking shares, but providing infrastructure,” says Ran Braier, deputy general manager business development at IAI’s Lahav division. “The idea is that we get advanced technology and they get a huge leap into the commercial market.”

Israeli F-16 - Rafael


Over at Israel’s second biggest aerospace and defence company, Elbit Systems, the can-do spirit is also in evidence. While the private company may have grown largely through acquisitions into a $3.26 billion-turnover concern – with almost a quarter of its employees based in overseas subsidiaries – the company retains much of the spirit of a start-up, brimming with ideas to take to market. It pumps 9% of its revenues into research and development and produces a vast range of technologies, from unmanned air vehicles to sensors, lasers, avionics and defence electronics.

As with many Israeli firms, many of its technologies derive from the need to counter a specific military or terrorist threat. In the case of Elbit’s range of directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) systems, that came in 2002 in the form of an attack by surface-to-air missiles on a Boeing 757 operated by Arkia Airlines as it took off from Mombassa, packed with Israeli tourists. The weapons failed to hit their target, but Israel immediately launched a programme to equip all its passenger airliners with protection from these heat-seeking devices, known as man-portable air defence systems, or Manpads.

Today, Elbit is the only manufacturer outside the USA to offer DIRCMs on the market, and is the only one with its system installed on airliners, having equipped the fleets of El Al and the country’s other carriers. In addition to its C-Music system for large jets, it offers the more compact J-Music and mini-Music variants for business jets and helicopters or small fixed-wing aircraft. Elbit has delivered more than 130 systems, and they are fitted on some 24 types, including several head-of-state aircraft as well as Germany’s Airbus A400Ms. The devices have notched up more than 50,000 flight hours.

The fuselage-mounted pods, which contain sensors that detect the missile and “hand over” to a laser that, in turn, locks on to the weapon and disables it, can be moved from one aircraft to another in a matter of hours, says Arnon Bram, who heads Elbit’s DIRCM business unit. He says that while the technology has proved highly popular for head-of-state aircraft, more commercial airlines are showing an interest, although such an investment often has to be prompted by national governments. “The advantage is that as an Israeli state programme, it has been thoroughly tested and proven,” he notes.

Controp is a much smaller Israeli company that produces a highly-specialist range of products – electro-optical and infrared scanners – that it supplies to Elbit, IAI and its 50% owner Aeronautics (which owns Controp, along with fellow stakeholder Rafael, also with 50%), as well as manufacturers, militaries and homeland security customers around the world. The business – which opened a lab in Singapore a year ago to target the Asia-Pacific market – employs just 280 people, although almost 100 of these are engineers working purely in R&D.

Although its surveillance equipment, weighing from just 300g to 30kg (66lb), is fitted on ships, on vehicles and at fixed land sites, one of its specialities is producing lightweight technology for smaller UAVs that fly below cloud level, typically at 3,000-8,000ft – its STAMP (stabilised miniature payloads) family. “Up to group two UAVs, we dominate the world,” says chief executive Dror Sharon. It is a segment of UAVs that he expects to grow. “Stabilisation is key at this height so our products are fitted with three gimbals; most of our competitors use two,” he says. “Weight, stability, power and capability are our USPs.”

Sharon expects demand for this technology – and the smaller UAVs that carry it – to grow in Asia. “There are lots of [requests for proposals] or [requests for information] at the moment, and we see the market expanding in Korea, Singapore and India,” he says. “There is very little penetration there of group one and two UAVS and we expect some very interesting tenders in 2019 and 2020.” Likewise, he sees a lot of potential in the region for its larger iSky family of observation systems, which range from 11-29kg and are pitched at lighter manned or unmanned surveillance platforms.

With maritime patrol a growing segment in the contested seas and islands of Southeast Asia, Sharon believes the weight – and capability – of Controp’s products mean customers would be able to get sufficient intelligence using much smaller aircraft than the types traditionally used in this role. At Singapore, the company is launching an enhanced version of its top-of-the-range iSky 50HD, with high-definition thermal and short-wave infrared imaging, “crucial in Asia because of the fog and dust”, says Sharon.

Source: Flight International