Israel’s Technological Advantage

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by Aaron Feigenbaum

Israeli military technology is often lauded as some of the best in the world. In fact, Israel is the world’s largest arms exporter. Israel is such a technological innovator that some Israeli defense companies have begun selling their tech to the mighty U.S. military. Herewith some highlights of effective technologies Israel is currently using to defend itself.

Iron Dome: Developed by leading tech company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and funded in significant part by the U.S. government, the Iron Dome is Israel’s primary defense against Hamas’ rockets. It’s designed to shoot down artillery shells and short-range rockets fired from up to 43 miles away. An estimated 400 rockets from Gaza were shot down in the recent war at a cost of around $60,000 per interceptor and $50 million per missile battery. Some experts dispute the effectiveness of the system in shooting down rockets but Israeli and U.S. officials claim a 90% success rate, up 6% from the last Gaza war in 2012. Plans are in the works to co-produce the system with U.S. contractor Raytheon, and several countries such as the U.S. and Singapore are interested in integrating the system into their own defense networks. Israel recently debuted a variation on the Iron Dome called the Iron Beam which uses a laser beam which can destroy small targets such as shells, rockets, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in only a few seconds.

David’s Sling: Designed as Iron Dome’s counterpart for shooting down long-range missiles, David’s Sling is a highly advanced system with a range of up to 185 miles. It is designed to meet the threat of Iranian long-range technology which has fallen into the hands of Hamas and Hazbollah. Unfortunately, the project has been hampered by budget constraints and is currently not operational. The U.S. and Indian militaries have shown interest in adopting it.

David's Sling

Tunnel detection: Hamas is notorious for their use of tunnels to smuggle rockets and fighters into Gaza. Researchers from the Talpiot division of the IDF are now working on an advanced sensor system that’s designed to detect when a tunnel is being dug. The system has been tested in the recent Gaza war. Should the system prove viable, the IDF plans to combine it with a subterranean wall placed near the Gaza border. Initial tests of the system in Tel Aviv have proven successful.

Drones: Israel is the world leader in both drone innovation and sales. One of Israel’s most widely used reconnaisance drones is the IAI Heron-1 which features GPS navigation, infrared surveillance, radar, and the ability to automatically return to base if communications are lost. Much like the U.S. has done for years in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Heron is able to target individuals and vehicles on the ground and take them out. Many countries are using a variant of the Heron system including Israel’s one-time ally Turkey. Israeli Aerospace Industries recently unveiled the Super Heron, a much larger version of the Heron that boasts longer flight-time, faster speed, less maintenance, and better sensors. To assist soldiers on the ground, Israeli company ODF Optronics is developing a mini-drone called EyeBall which can peer into rooms and map the interior. Other drones reported to be in the works include ones that can rescue injured soldiers and take off vertically.

The Heron Drone

Israel’s drone tech isn’t just restricted to the air either. Israeli companies have developed the Protector and Guardian vehicles to augment the military’s unmanned capabilities. The Protector is a fast, unmanned boat with advanced sensors that can sniff out threats to Israeli ships. The Guardian is an unmanned land vehicle that looks like a tank compressed to about twice the size of a SmartCar. Its purpose is to remotely detect targets and coordinate ground and aerial assaults. The Guardian has also been adopted by the U.S. Border Patrol.

F-35 Fighter Jet: Created by U.S. company Lockheed Martin and adopted by the Israeli Air Force, the F-35 is both the most sophisticated and expensive jet ever made. One of the things that sets this aircraft apart from all the others is the incredible augmented reality helmet the pilots use. The helmet, looking like something out of Star Wars, allows them to get a 360-degree view at all times. The plane itself is virtually undetectable due to its shape and low heat emissions. It can do all sorts of stunts and even hover through its software, thus requiring little input from the pilot. The F-35 can be equipped with virtually every type of missile and bomb including nuclear weapons. Israel plans on buying 19 of the planes in 2016 and modifying them from the original American design.

The X-35 Joint Strike Fighter

Dolphin-class submarines: These submarines, developed by German company HDW and sold to the Israeli Navy, are some of the most advanced in the world. Israel currently has 5 of these vessels. Each one costs around half a billion dollars making it the most expensive item in Israel’s military arsenal. Among the Dolphins’ impressive features are a long-range air defense system and the capability to launch a large variety of torpedos and cruise missiles including ones with nuclear warheads. However, the submarines are not currently being used offensively, but rather to prevent weapons from reaching Gaza and to protect Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone in which lies huge deposits of natural gas.

Merkava IV Tank: The latest version of the Merkava is Israel’s most advanced tank. Its features include anti-reflective paint to reduce the possibility of being detected, a sophisticated driving system designed to conquer harsh terrain, and the ability to fire a variety of rounds including anti-tank rounds and a laser-guided homing missile. The tank provides its drivers with infrared vision and the ability to track targets. A variant of the tank includes the Windbreaker system which is able to shoot down RPG and anti-tank rounds.

The Merkava IV Tank

Apache AH-64 Helicopter: This powerful warbird was developed by Boeing and has been adopted by many countries including Israel which received 42 of them in 1990. Unlike Israel’s other military equipment, the Apache has not been replaced with a newer model but has rather been continuously upgraded. The helicopter is heavily armored and uses a number of weapons including AGM air-to-surface missiles, 30mm rounds, and Hydra 70 rockets. The Apache has been active in a number of conflicts including the 2006 Lebanon war, Operation Cast Lead in 2009, and the assassination of Ahmed Yassin in 2004.

The Apache Helicopter

CornerShot: As the name suggests, this Israeli-developed gun allows its user to shoot around corners. Its method of operation, dating back to WWI, is fairly simple: It has a pistol attached to a barrel which can pivot around a corner. The user sees enemies through a digital camera and is able to shoot without exposing him or herself to danger. The gun has proven very popular for Special Forces units and SWAT teams around the world. Besides Israel, it is currently used in the U.S., Russia, China, Mexico and a number of other countries.

Cornershot

TecSAR: TecSAR is one of the world’s most advanced satellite systems and helps Israel to monitor international threats such as Iran. It was launched from India in 2008 via an Israeli-designed space vehicle. Through radar, it can see in the night and through heavy cloud cover. It also has different zoom modes with different resolutions. Potentially, Israel could develop its satellite technology to carry a space-based weapon.

The nuclear arsenal: Israel has been tight-lipped about its nuclear arsenal but it’s widely assumed by many governments and defense experts that it does indeed exist. Israel is believed to possess anywhere from 75 to 400 nukes, all of which were developed at the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona. Much of the information about Israel’s nuke program comes from the controversial defector Mordechai Vanunu who worked as a technician the Negev facility in the 1980’s. Israel has a number of ways to launch its nukes including by submarine, jet fighter, and the Jericho intercontinental ballistic missile system.

Aerial view of the nuclear reactor in Demona

Aerial view of the nuclear reactor in Demona

(Sources: Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, The Guardian, Reuters, Quartz, Times of Israel, INSS, Telegraph, Arms Control Association)