Israeli company EL-OP is one manufacturer content to remain in the defence market.

Arie Egozi/TEL AVIV

WHEN THE FIRST photographs from the Offeq 3, Israel's intelligence satellite, were transmitted to the ground in April, the experts were more than surprised. The small, lightweight, satellite offers only a limited payload, but the 6.5kg Research 1 camera, developed by EL-OP, has so far not disappointed ground-station analysts with its excellent images in different spectrums.

Electro-optical manufacturer EL-OP has been involved in almost every Israeli intelligence-gathering activity in recent years, but, in many ways, the Offeq 3 camera represents the peak of its achievements. Although a large part of EL-OP's activity is classified, the company can be considered a member of that small "club" whose members develop and manufacture state-of-the-art electro-optical systems for ground, sea and aerial platforms.

EL-OP president Jakob Toren says that, while keeping the company's core business of developing and producing different electro-optical components and systems, it has also taken "big steps forward" into some additional, very sophisticated areas. He confirms that EL-OP has entered the electro-optical counter-measures field, but refuses to give any indication of the systems under development.

space-systems project

A special effort is being made to develop space systems and advanced aerial-photography equipment. The Offeq 3 camera joins other space-related systems, such as a horizon sensor for small satellites, a lightweight, ultra-violet-imaging, telescope system, and an Earth-resources monitoring system. "We see our space-related systems as a very important business area, and this includes civil and military uses," says Toren. He will not, however, expand on the discussions with potential customers which sources say have begun.

Aerial photography is another field of accelerated investment, and is an activity centred mainly around high-altitude and medium-altitude airborne-photography systems. The company has developed a range of integral and pod-carried electro-optical systems which are in service on Israeli air force manned and unmanned aircraft. These have also been exported. The long-range, oblique, photography system enables high-resolution images to be taken from ranges of over 50km (27nm).

The technologies mastered by EL-OP directed the company towards another classified field - passive, electro-optical, countermeasures for aircraft and ships. No details are available on these systems, but there are indications that some are already operational.

Cockpit or helmet-mounted displays also form an important slice of the company's production. EL-OP is manufacturing a line of head-up displays (HUDs) which has been included in fixed-wing and rotary aircraft. The model 967, for example, is a wide-angled HUD, and is being evaluated on Israeli air force Lockheed Martin F-16s. It is capable of displaying stroke, or stroke on raster, and is not affected by direct sunlight.

It is also being offered on upgrade programmes, including Turkish air force McDonnell Douglas F-4s, Czech Aero L-39 trainers sold to the Thai air force, the Argentinean FMA Pampa and upgraded Northrop Grumman F-5s of the Chilean air force. Embraer has installed it in the AMX and is evaluating it for inclusion in the upgrade programme for the Brazilian F-5s. This is only a partial list of customers, but it demonstrates that EL-OP has found a very wide niche.

EL-OP is also involved in almost every major helicopter programme. The company supplies displays and laser trackers for the McDonnell Douglas AH-64 Apache; it is manufacturing the laser rangefinder/designator for the night targeting system of the US Marine Corps and Israeli air force Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopters, and it recently won a contract to develop the laser rangefinder/designator for the Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche.

"We have developed systems that are vital for every fighting aircraft, and the customer list proves that they realise it," says Toren.


Private company

As a private company, owned by the Federman holding group with no listing on either the Israeli or US stock exchanges, EL-OP is unique among the Israeli defence industries. In addition, Toren says that the company is unlike other defence-industry firms because "...we do not have any plans to divert some of our capabilities to the civil market. We are a defence company, and we intend to stay that way." With total sales in 1994 of $111 million, a forecast of $132 million for this year, and a backlog of over $900 million in orders, the company is confident that it can expand in the coming years, and keep its profitability.

Located in Nes Ziona, 15km south of Tel Aviv, EL-OP keeps all research-and-development, manufacturing, assembly and testing functions under one roof. While the main activity is centred at this base, the company is expanding its international co-operation. Strategic alliances have been formed with Loral and Lockheed Martin in the USA, and another with McDonnell Douglas is in the pipeline. Co-operation has also been established with Atlas Electronics in Germany, and activity has recently begun in Poland with local investors. Co-operation in the Far East also exists, but EL-OP is not willing to elaborate.

Source: Flight International