Israeli military suppliers charge into U.S. markets

WASHINGTON — While Israel's military prowess is no secret, the success of Israeli defense firms in the U.S. marketplace isn't widely known.

Three Israeli defense companies even have offices in the Washington area. They are the government-owned Rafael, as well as Israel Aircraft Industries and Israel Military Industries, which are affiliated with the government but operate independently.

This trio joined dozens of companies from the United States and elsewhere to exhibit their wares at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting last fall in Washington. The U.S. Army's top brass attend the show to learn about the latest in military equipment.

The Israeli companies were especially popular.

A big selling point is the Israeli military's "wonderful reputation" worldwide, said Leon Green, director of import/export at Israel Military Industries' office in Bethesda, Md. His company specializes in making tank and military ammunition, as well as assault rifles and shoulder-launch missiles.

Yirmi Katz, Rafael's vice president of marketing, said Israeli companies are also popular because they often develop "unique stuff" that no one else has come up with.

For example, Rafael, which has offices in Washington, has had success selling SIMON, a door-breaching rifle grenade.

The weapon is unique, Katz said, because it penetrates doors while minimizing injury to people, such as hostages, who may be behind the door. It also is remotely operated, eliminating any risk to the weapon operator.

This system is of more relevant to Israeli forces, Katz said, but it's something that the United States and other countries could find useful.

A radar system developed by the Israeli Aircraft Industries with the help of an American company, Telephonics, is similar. It was devised for an Israeli problem, but applicable to the predicaments of the United States and other nations.

The ARSS radar system can detect movement at very low speeds, as slow as one kilometer an hour. In Israel, it can detect potential terrorists crawling across Israeli borders. In the United States, customs and immigration officials are interested in using it to detect illegal immigrants slipping across the U.S.-Mexican border.

The United States buys only a small percentage of its military equipment from companies in other countries — $6 to 7 billion out of $125 billion in contract awards each year.

But Glenn Flood, a U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson, said Israel is a dependable, important supplier.

"They make good stuff" and have been for the past 20 to 30 years, Flood said. Some of that "good stuff," includes Uzi machine guns and other small firearms, as well as communications equipment.

In addition, Israeli defense companies have in recent years begun to team up with American defense contractors on arms development.

One example is ELMSAR, a reconnaissance pod that attaches to American F-16 airplanes and can penetrate clouds or any other kind of bad weather conditions.

Israel Aircraft Industries, along with Lockheed Martin, developed the system, which has such high resolution that a particular house can be pinpointed.

T.J. Klugseth, a Lockheed Martin representative, said the process of developing ELMSAR together with an overseas partner "made it easier for us." For example, Lockheed, as a top defense contractor in the United States, has marketing advantages and expertise that Israel Aircraft Industries would not have on its own.

Klemow noted that much of Israel Aircraft Industries' business with the United States is commercial, which includes products such as business jets. Partly because of that, its annual business in the United States has expanded from $3 million 30 years ago to its current $800 million.