Israeli Aerospace and Defence Industries — Forging Ahead!

Israeli aerospace and defence industries are clearly neck on neck in the race for development of technology and are taking technology to new heights

Issue: 07-2019By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)
By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)
Former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Training Command, IAF


On the global scene today, Israel, though a tiny nation, has an extremely well developed aerospace and defence industry which covers both military and commercial domains. The defence industries are in the state-owned public sector as also in the private sector. The state-owned public sector companies include Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Rafael and Israeli Military Industries (IMI). The private sector has a large number companies of which the market leader is Elbit Systems.

IAI a company wholly owned by the Government of Israel, is the nation’s prime aerospace and aviation manufacturer. The company manufactures aerial systems for both the military and civilian use. The company was founded in 1953 as Bedek Aviation Company and the individual responsible for initiating the move to set up the company, was Shimon Peres, the then Director General of the Ministry of Defence. The founder of the company and its first President was Al Schwimmer who had just 70 employees under him. Today, the company has over 16000 employees in its rolls.

The first aircraft that Bedek Aviation Company manufactured was the twin-jet trainer of French design, the Fouga Magister, renamed as the Tzukit. This aircraft served as the trainer aircraft for the Israeli Air Force for five decades. It was also employed in the six-day Arab-Israeli war of 1967 for battlefield support missions. The first aircraft to be fully designed and built by IAI, was a transport aircraft named as Arava. It took three years to develop and got airborne for the first time in 1969.

After the arms embargo by France at the beginning of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, IAI began developing its own fighter aircraft 1968. This platform was a derivative of the Mirage V and was named as the IAI Nesher which entered service in 1971, in time for the Yom Kippur War. The Nesher was followed by the IAI Kfir that entered service with the Israeli Air Force in 1975. The IAI Kfir was exported to a number of countries including Colombia, Equador and Sri Lanka.

With the aim of diversifying its business, IAI entered the business aircraft market, the first product being the Astra which flew for the first time in 1985, was certified by the FAA and delivery to customers began in 1986.

The other major player with the Government of Israel in the domain of aerospace is Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd or Rafael. This Israeli defence technology company was founded as Israel’s National R&D Defence Laboratory for the development of weapons and military technology within the Israeli Ministry of Defence. Rafael is well known for developing and manufacturing multi-layered defence systems against rockets and ballistic missiles. A well known system produced by Rafael is the Iron Dome that is designed to intercept short-range rockets. It has been proved in operations in the Gaza strip achieving a success rate of 90 percent in neutralising rockets launched against Israel. The other defensive system is the David’s Sling that is designed to intercept rockets with a range of 70 to 250 km. The company has plans to enhance the capability of this system by increasing the range at which it can intercept incoming missiles. This system is also capable of intercepting cruise missiles.

Rafael continues to be engaged in design, development and manufacture of advanced weapon systems for the Israel Defence Forces as also for customers abroad. These innovative weapon systems pertain to land, naval and air warfare as also space. The company focuses on Electronic Warfare, Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence systems, training and simulators, armour and precision-guided weapon systems. One ready example of Rafael’s ability to develop an advanced weapon system is the “Spice” family of smart bombs, the Spice 250 gliding bombs that are carried by combat aircraft of the Israeli Air Force. The Spice 250 that has a stand-off range of 100km, can be loaded with 100 optional targets in a given area. With the image-matching sensor, the Spice 250 provides very high accuracy levels with CEP as low as three metres. Rafael is now developing a sixth generation air-to-air missile as well.

Elbit Systems and its subsidiaries operate in aerospace, land and naval systems, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, unmanned air systems, electro-optic space systems, electronic warfare suites, airborne warning systems, ELINT systems, data links and military communications systems. The company upgrades existing military platforms, develops new technologies for defence, homeland security and commercial aviation applications. The company provides a range of support services, handles aircraft upgrades, advanced avionics, helmet-mounted systems, head-up displays, digital maps, mission computers, aerial reconnaissance systems and guided munitions systems. Its pilot helmet was selected for the American Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter. The company is a major supplier of unmanned air systems.

Israeli aerospace and defence industries are clearly neck-onneck in the race for development of technology. The Israeli companies are taking technology to new heights and in some areas, they are well ahead of their competitors across the world.