• Arushi Singh

Israel’s Contemporary Achievements and Emerging Trends in Defence Research and Development

Abstract: Israel inhabits an antagonistic strategic atmosphere and attracts chronic cycles of hostility within its region, slated to remain so through the immediate outlook. Israel’s considerable interest and investment in defence R&D has mobilized the growth of both civilian and defence segments as economic and security drivers of the country. R&D in defence has benefited the IDF, shaped linkages with previously other adversarial countries, and helped with the country's economic health by easing the burden of foreign exchange. Israel’s defence R&D also has had a psychological discovery wherein they showed their partners and rivals their capabilities, commitments, and abilities to ensure their national survival.


Bottom-line-up-front: Israel has managed to construct defence R&D competencies that not only are responsible for delivering solutions for its own unique national security requirements and concerns but has likewise proved beneficial to other countries around the world. Furthermore, innovation empowers Israel to reinforce its defence establishment while guaranteeing the IDF’s “qualitative” advantages.


Problem statement: How does Israel work to uphold its dominance through excellent system design and assimilation expertise, engineering discoveries and the proficiency of operatives working on verge technologies, given its economic restrictions and limitations in human resources?


So what?: The capability to deter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any single nation or likely coalition of countries, violent non-state actors as well as during hybrid warfare while minimizing damage and casualty requires military might be fortified by technologically superior armaments, weapons systems as well as C4I technological capabilities developed through defence R&D.


Source: shutterstock.com/Oren Ravid

Israel’s Requirements


Warfare is shaped and transformed by technological innovations and advancements. However, the demands of modern warfare also necessitate the cultivation of deterrence and detection capabilities which are then to be buoyed by dynamics and indigenous technological progress. Furthermore, enormous commercial applications of these technologies can be employed to advance the geopolitical, geoeconomic and geostrategic objectives of a nation. Notably, the defence relation dividends are compounded for Israel by its position at the zenith of global innovation, especially in the research and development (R&D) in the defence sector. The feat is made impressive considering the size of the country along with its limited economic resources, human resources and dearth of natural resources.


Notably, the defence relation dividends are compounded for Israel by its position at the zenith of global innovation, especially in the research and development (R&D) in the defence sector.

Additionally, the continued exacerbation of the security threats emanating from its geopolitical neighbourhood and other intensifying threat perceptions in the region primarily driven by regional armed conflicts, weapons embargoes, and boycotts[1] have led to a persistent focus by Israel on defence R&D efforts. Hence, Israel has managed to construct defence R&D competencies that not only are responsible for delivering solutions for its own unique national security requirements and concerns but has likewise proved beneficial to other countries around the world such as its unmanned aerial systems, radars and electro-optical technology.[2] Besides, innovation empowers Israel to reinforce its defence establishment while guaranteeing the Israel Defense Force's (IDF) “qualitative”[3] advantages.


There are structural benefits that Israel has deliberately instituted in place as well, such as Israel’s Ministry of Defense (IMOD)'s Directorate of the Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), which has been active in the improvement and innovation of multiple defence-related technological leaps. Multiple innovative companies have also been started by elite combat units and Unit 8200 which have contributed to Israel earning the “start-up nation” moniker, including in the defence equipment and products domain. Furthermore, companies in Israel are paving the way to develop innovative equipment for the defence industry through a near-seamless concord between the defence and the civilian sector in defence R&D.


The capability to deter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any single nation or likely coalition of countries, violent non-state actors as well as during hybrid warfare while minimizing damage and casualty requires military might be fortified by technologically superior armaments, weapons systems as well as C4I technological capabilities developed through defence R&D.


Ground-Based Air Defence


One of the technological achievements that Israel is known for is the Iron Dome which has been opined to be an innovative transportable missile defence system designed for defence against short-range rockets as well as UAVs. Its capabilities have been augmented to defend against several inbound threats concurrently. Development of the Iron Dome was initiated in 2007, and it was active in 2011. The United States collaborated with Israel to develop the system with Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) working on the R&D, Rafael functioning as the primary contractor along with the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).[4]


The targeting system and radar are intended to aim its Tamir interceptors exclusively at inward bound projectiles that are a credible threat to strategic locations. It is not configured to target weapons headed for non-strategic areas. In the face of mounting challenges and rockets from Hamas and Hezbollah, the Israelis worked on the Iron Dome. Israel also advanced and developed a naval ship-based variety of Iron Dome, called the C-Dome, to be installed on corvettes to protect Israeli off-shore natural gas facilities.[5] The Iron Dome employs various cutting-edge technologies such as the MMR Radar, which is used to detect, identify, and track the rocket's path above the Iron Dome’s batteries. Another is the Command and Control Center, developed by mPrest and utilized to evaluate the trajectory of rockets besides their projected landing area for interception.


In the face of mounting challenges and rockets from Hamas and Hezbollah, the Israelis worked on the Iron Dome.

Another system has been David's Sling which is to be used for high calibre rockets, short-range ballistic missiles and evolving threats with a system calculated to strike directly. Moreover, it considerably fortifies Israeli airborne defence strategy and emerging as a vital aspect in Israel's multi-tiered defence assortment contributing to added defence by supplementing the abilities of the Arrow and the Iron Dome systems. The development for David’s Sling was started in 2006, and it became operational in 2017. The chief contractor for David’s Sling is Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, and the subcontractor is US Raytheon Missile Systems. IAI manufactures the MMR. Golden Almond is the Command and Control Center for threat evaluation, planning, and regulating interception.[6] The interceptor entails dual stages with anterior and stern steering systems, thereby qualifying for operational enactment conducted exceptionally effectively.


Unmanned Aerial Vehicles


Another substantial achievement is the IAF Phalcon employed for long-range air surveillance with a radar that continuously revolves to inspect for aggressive movement and the abilities of the rotating dome are augmented by a trifecta of radars which track every track in a rapid refresh ratio. There are three Active Electronic steered arrays wherein every individual unit can emit and receive L Band frequency, which is cited to be finest for recognition and tracking aerial equipment.[7]


A considerable triumph for the Israeli has also been the Heron TP called the “drone that can reach Iran.” The Heron TP is one of the biggest UAVs in the world which can stay in the air for 24 hours while carrying a ton worth of payload. Its next-generation Eitan is slated to be on par with Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk.[8] Israel was the first state in the world to activate drones in combat missions, and it was created by the Malat (UAV) division of IAI. Drones provide soldiers on the ground with the facility to make carefully considered judgements through more data and details on the ground before entering enemy territory or conducting a raid on compounds.[9]


Israel was the first state in the world to activate drones in combat missions, and it was created by the Malat (UAV) division of IAI.

The Merkava


Another achievement has been the Merkava tank which has been said to be amongst the most lethal tanks on the planet. The latest model is called the Merkava Mk-4, which can touch speeds of 40 mph besides being equipped with innovative modular armour gear as such that can be retrofitted with armour when the mission requires it, thereby giving enormous flexibility to the forces. This, moreover, provides the operating crew with the freedom to replace the parts which have been damaged of the armour without leaving the battlefield and affords protection for the amount of time it takes to get back into friendly territory. Furthermore, the Trophy has been added to the arsenal of the tank, which acts as a personal missile defence system for a single tank. Trophy utilizes a small radar to detect inbound anti-tank missiles, then proceeds to fire and intercept them through the usage of pellets. The trophy also possesses the ability to interact with the battle management system aboard the tank, ensuring that the enemy location is obtained through their firing of the missiles.[10]


Furthermore, the Trophy has been added to the arsenal of the tank, which acts as a personal missile defence system for a single tank. Trophy utilizes a small radar to detect inbound anti-tank missiles, then proceeds to fire and intercept them through the usage of pellets.

Emerging Technologies


Another important technological achievement has been founded on laser beam accuracy wherein through technological advancement, the defence system has acquired the ability to not only target but also stabilize the laser beam for on a long-range target where it encompasses surmount atmospheric turbulences. This technology enables the development of effective, highly operational interception systems that will form another layer to protect the State of Israel by air, land and sea. This technology is poised to be part of the new era of ‘energy warfare’ in the three traditional domains. The system acts as a countermeasure against rocket, artillery and mortar (RAM) systems, UAVs and anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). Moreover, the DDR&D has propelled three laser demonstrator programs which have been in cooperation with Rafael and Elbit Systems.


This technology enables the development of effective, highly operational interception systems that will form another layer to protect the State of Israel by air, land and sea. This technology is poised to be part of the new era of ‘energy warfare’ in the three traditional domains.

The first is land-based, which is to complement the Iron Dome system, thereby adding another extra cover of protection. The second is for a mobile platform to defend the manoeuvring militaries that are operating in the field. The third operated for an aerial platform that intercepts over the cloud cover and protects populated larger areas.[11] Some of the considerations addressed have been better efficiency and stability which are essential for scaling up of the technology as well as considerably more cost-effective missile defence ability, improvement and manufacture of the optics, mechanics and laser originating from a singular beam source have been costly. However, the cost becomes bearable as a single laser shot cost is insignificantly cheap compared to conventional kinetic interceptors.[12]


Another area has been for defence R&D has been quantum technology. MOD has invested 100 million Israeli New Shekel ($27 million) into an innovative research fund for working solely on quantum computing.[13] The venture is collaborative undertaking MAFAT, the Higher Education Committee and the Israel Science Foundation, and the intention behind the fund is to enhance Israeli abilities on intelligence gathering.[14]


Artificial Intelligence (AI) utilisation in the armed forces arsenal is likewise potentially a game-changer for the defence R&D sector. There have been discussions and discourses that state that Israeli usage of AI apparatuses in the military will likely intensify, and so will the defence R&D spend on it both in terms of time, expertise, and investment.[15] For instance, Rafael’s Spice bombs employ artificial intelligence in conjunction with automated target identification.


The IDF has been focusing on it through an engine for the majority of Israeli AI advances referred to as C4I, within which resides the Sigma branch whose explicit objective is the development, research, and implementation of the state-of-the-art in AI to retain IDF’s military edge. The IDF already deploys weapons with a substantial amount of autonomy, for instance, the Harpy loitering munition, also well-known as a kamikaze drone, is a UAV that after being airborne for a substantial amount of time, annihilates land targets with the assistance of warheads. Israel has deployed fully automated robots through self-driving army vehicles for the purpose of patrolling. Furthermore, IAI has been involved in R&D of autonomous weapon systems for a long time.[16]


Israel has limited human resources from which it can draw, and as such, protection of that resource is imperative. Therefore, employing glasses manufactured by American company Revision, the IDF, through the application of its ballistic laboratory assessments on the polycarbonate lenses, was able to manufacture glass to protect the soldiers' eyes from incoming shrapnel. Additionally, the glasses are less susceptible to fogging with respective lenses used in daylight and night like darker environments. Thereby increasing situational awareness of the soldier, which is critical in a combat situation. Moreover, the military uniforms have used ripstop technology for its soldiers as the fabric prevents tears increasing in size.


Therefore, employing glasses manufactured by American company Revision, the IDF, through the application of its ballistic laboratory assessments on the polycarbonate lenses, was able to manufacture glass to protect the soldiers' eyes from incoming shrapnel.

Israel’s Leveraging of its Defence Research and Development for its National Security and Foreign Policy


Defence R&D in Israel is vital for the state’s survival, and as such, it has been divided into three categories to minimize Israel’s adversaries gaining a military or technological advantage. These divisions are based on understanding the destination of the military hardware, which is built on Israeli defence innovation, the countries' intentions where the hardware is to be exported to and Israel’s own perception of the country's intent on acquiring Israeli defence equipment. Further, these divisions are imperative in understanding the strategic relations that are forged as the defence hardware is employed to advance the country’s interests in the region and globally.


These divisions include defence R&D, which considers country-specific conditions and needs to design defence equipment. The second division is meant for a limited number of allies which augur well for the advancement of Israeli interests and thus are entitled to a larger set of military hardware which is the product of Israel’s defence R&D. There are also products that are specially designed for export or joint ventures and are available to all nations that are interested in importing Israeli military hardware.[17] This is essential for ensuring that technology proliferation to foes such as Iran is limited or curtailed.


However, one of the long-lasting relations based on defence R&D has been between India and Israel. The Israeli defence giant Rafael has an established rapport with the Indian defence sector and Indian military, which is considered a strategic substance to both countries. Multiple systems manufactured by Rafael are being employed by the Indian armed forces, including Litening, which is a cutting-edge aerial electrooptical Pod used on a variation of fighter aircraft besides SPYDER, a land air-defence system. India has also acquired the Phalcon airborne warning and control system (AWACS) and Heron[18] used extensively by all three branches of the armed forces from Israel. Heron is to be used along the Pakistan and China mountainous border regions and India’s coastal waters.


Multiple systems manufactured by Rafael are being employed by the Indian armed forces, including Litening, which is a cutting-edge aerial electrooptical Pod used on a variation of fighter aircraft besides SPYDER, a land air-defence system.

The IAI, Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Rafael developed the Barak-8, the innovative succeeding generation of naval, ship-borne air missile defence systems. Notably, at present, there are three operational variants of the defence system.[19] Rafael’s foremost strategic endeavour is to continue to strengthen cooperation with the DRDO and other companies operating in the defence sector in India. Rafael is also working with other Indian companies both in joint ventures and in partnerships such as Mahindra and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) which is a sign of the maturation of mutual ties.[20]


India and Israel share threat perceptions, including of Pakistan. The defence relation has provided and fulfilled common strategic objectives for both India and Israel while increasing the strategic depth of the relationship.[21] It provides India with a distinct technological edge over Pakistan and an in-road in West Asia. The relationship allows Israel to undermine Pakistan’s regional ambitions, which might be detrimental to Israeli, including extending Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities to Iran. There are widening convergences between Israel and India. These include counterterrorism and rising collaboration in the Indian Ocean. These convergences can emerge as a robust foundation for technological defence R&D relation, diplomatic and military relations. Moreover, the AWACS, which Israel refused to sell to China, but India was able to acquire. Strategic analysts promulgate that two decades ago, the US persuaded Israel to avoid selling its AWACS to China to avoid offering Beijing any competitive lead over to its AWACS aircraft in any dispute concerning Taiwan. Furthermore, these developments may mark a greater shift in both India’s relation with Israel and China’s relation with Israel. However, in the opposite directions and perhaps more satisfactorily for India which has used its AWACS to monitor Pakistani airspace and area around Islamabad and Rawalpindi.[22]


Israel has leased three IAI Heron to Greece with an option to buy at the end of the three-year lease. Greece has the naval variant of the Heron for improved border security as its maritime borders are along with Turkey, whose dispute over hydrocarbons with Cyprus and Greece has enhanced capabilities. Further, both Israel and Greece share a threat perception regarding Turkey, so an interest alignment has been achieved.[23] Germany has likewise leased Heron from Israel. Experts have observed that the purpose of this acquisition is for supporting deployment units in Afghanistan and Mali.[24] This becomes substantially important in maintaining ties in the aftermath of US withdrawal from the region wherein vacuum power is anticipated to lead to the proliferation of violent non-state actors.


Israel has utilized the companies involved in defence R&D to enhance relations with other countries as well. One such country has been Turkey before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to power, Israeli companies IAI, Israel Military Industries (IMI), Rafael and Elta had agreed to establish joint production ventures with Turkish companies. For Israel, its regional deterrence was enhanced, and there was the probability of acquiring an off-shore strategic depth to gain secure retaliatory strike ability. Moreover, the Turkish government was not interested in buying off-shelf companies but was interested in developing domestic defence capacity with a special focus on modernization. However, the Turkish government drastically reduced cooperation as its own domestic capabilities were developed and the Israeli government was reluctant to sell some armaments. Still, this relation based on the need for defence R&D showcased its capacity and emergence as bridge-builder for security considerations and deepening ties.[25]


The Asia-Pacific region has continued to remain the principal destination for Israel’s defence exports, going as high as 46 % of total Israeli arms exports. This growing defence relations funds Israeli defence R&D programs and therefore is vital for the country. In Southeast Asia, defence modernization is underway, requiring upgrades through imports. There is an increase in the demand for the development of indigenization programs which are necessitated due to regional disputes, domestic conflict, extremism, militancy and terrorism. Israeli defence firms' capabilities in the production of advanced systems coupled with its ability to upgrade defence products and equipment have prompted interest from countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Myanmar. Additionally, Vietnam has already signed a deal with IAI and purchased Heron for its troops.


Israeli defence firms' capabilities in the production of advanced systems coupled with its ability to upgrade defence products and equipment have prompted interest from countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Myanmar.

There are multiple advantages for the Israeli government, such as economic diversifications of revenue streams and the establishment of relations that can be leveraged in a diplomatic crisis.[26] Israel has also established defence ties by exporting weapons systems such as UAVs, radar and communication arrays to African countries where concerns regarding Iranian influence loom large.[27]


National security in Israel has benefited immensely from multiple innovative defence R&D for instance that Barak 8 which Israel and India jointly developed may possibly be deployed in the vicinity of offshore gas rigs and gas fields that have been found off the coast of Israel to ensure the protection of these vital assets.[28] Moreover, a marine vessel variation of the Iron Dome termed the C-Dome is to be mounted on corvettes to safeguard the off-shore natural gas-related infrastructure in Israel along with the Israeli coastline and shipping lanes. This integration and interoperability with land-based system and Adir radar are also slated to increase the effectiveness of the “multi-layered active” defence of the country.[29]


Notably, moving into the future, Israel with its limited manpower is opined to depend on autonomous systems to fulfil its national security requirements. One of the defence technologies deployed to ensure such a transition has been the Guardium autonomous observation and target intercept system, which have been developed by Elbit Systems and IAI for border security missions.[30]


Aviation security has emerged as a vital topic in Israel.[31] The Iron Dome, David’s sling and Arrow defence systems have been tactically protecting Israel from incoming missiles along its borders. However, the focus is intensifying on drone technology which might provide security in case of the implementation of a two-state solution wherein Israel will be able to sustain its airborne authority over the Jordan Valley while granting the Palestinians autonomy over the territory itself. One of these is the Skylark drones or Sky Rider in Hebrew, is a tactical surveillance drone used by the Artillery Corps that offers a live video supply to armed forces on the field.[32] Hermes 450, a long-endurance UAV during the conflict in Lebanon wherein it was utilized in battle sorties supplying Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) and battle backing for aerial and land missions.[33]


Conclusion


Israel inhabits an antagonistic strategic atmosphere and attracts chronic cycles of hostility within its region, slated to remain so through the immediate outlook.[34] Israel’s considerable interest and investment in defence R&D has mobilized the growth of both civilian and defence segments as economic and security drivers of the country. R&D in defence has benefited the IDF, shaped linkages with previously other adversarial countries, and helped with the country's economic health by easing the burden of foreign exchange. Israelis defence R&D also has had a psychological discovery wherein they showed their partners and rivals their capabilities, commitments, and abilities to ensure their national survival.


Furthermore, R&D has reduced the gap between the risk prism and the capability prism.[35] Moreover, for every 10% increase in state-backed R&D, a 5% to 6% extra upturn in privately financed R&D is witnessed.[36] It took Israel decades and multiple phases to understand the significance of the defence R&D, which ensured its decision to establish institutions that today have been at the forefront of the game-changing technologies in the defence sector. Such as the IMDO, which continues to develop systems, acclimatizing and evolving the systems proficiencies according to the evolving threats. IMDO works to uphold the dominance of Israel through excellent system design and assimilation expertise, engineering discoveries and the proficiency of operatives working on verge technologies. Notably, a crucial development has been the advent of hybrid besides irregular warfare, which is a compelling dynamic and novel research paths such as anthropological topography mapping and ubiquitous surveillance.


Israel has been threatened with various security perils which have ensured Israel commitment to its defence R&D and hi-technology sectors to offset Israel’s limitations stemming from its vulnerable geographic area and limited human resources to draw strength from. The Israeli nation has invested a large amount of financial and human resources in building up military and technical competence to shield itself from the internal and external security threats. Israeli Defence R&D has been instrumental in the production of innovative equipment and weapons systems which have been exported as well and include Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), missile, aircraft, Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV), lasers, sensors, personal protective equipment and is the leading authority in the world on surface-bound equipment. Israel has commenced joint ventures that are commonly in aerospace, missile and antimissile systems, armaments, and ammunition.[37]


The Israeli nation has invested a large amount of financial and human resources in building up military and technical competence to shield itself from the internal and external security threats.

Moreover, the defence sector investment also helped transform Israel into a hi-tech hub for R&D. The prosperous technological advanced defence sector has imbibed the country with an entrepreneurial essence, an enquiring and systems-oriented approach which a collaborative relations outlook has backed. Even US aid has been focused on a “qualitative military edge” so that Israel can compensate unavoidable drawbacks with better technological abilities, training, equipment and defence systems.


Countries around the world have witnessed the effectiveness of Israeli defence equipment, which has in turn translated into outreach, linkages and relation-building for the long term. Israel has equally utilized these linkages and desires for cutting-edge technologies to advance its geopolitical objectives. However, Israel must likewise focus on strengthening and massively increasing the production capacity of the technology invented by its various institutions and its extremely skilled workforce if the country hopes to retain its moniker of the start-up nation.


Arushi Singh; Master’s degree program at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations (GIR) at Manipal Academy of Higher Education. Internships for the Centre for Air Power Studies and Raisina House. Her research areas include geopolitics of West Asia, geopolitical implications of great power competition in Africa, Russia’s foreign policy orientations and emerging technologies. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education.


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