TEL AVIV — Israel's oldest defense firm has established a directorate to deal with one of the newest threats to homeland security: extremist, disgruntled or ideologically driven civilian subgroups bent on sowing civil unrest.
Launched earlier this year by Israel Military Industries Ltd. (IMI), the new HLS directorate is part of the state-owned firm's repositioning in advance of 2016 privatization plans.
Aside from robotics, cyber protection and sensors for explosives detection and crowd monitoring, the directorate is developing less-than-lethal, rifle-launched stun grenades for use against unarmed masses.
Based on the firm's Refaim 40mm advanced infantry rifle grenade, and developed with partial funding from Israel's Defense Ministry, the Taser-like variant aims to temporarily disable potential threats through precision shocks.
"We're talking about essentially the same IMI-developed 40mm -millimeter round from an M203 launcher5 that knows how to put something inside a window or door at 100 meters. But for crowd-control missions, we're changing the warhead to deal with mobd-like threats," said Nir Regev, head of the new IMI directorate.
A former head of security at Israel's Shin Bet domestic service, Regev has managed multiple security portfolios on behalf of the Israeli Prime Minister's Office at home and abroad.
"What disturbs us and many others in the Western world are versions of the Islamic State and al-Qaida that are cropping up in many forms. The domestic threat becomes more tangible in the context of the second- and third-generation Islamic extremism taking root on Western soil," he said.
"It's one thing to prepare and equip for guerrilla warfare or terror threats, but given the growth of extremist groups from within, the next 'battlefield' may take place in concert halls, shopping centers or the town square."
In a mid-April interview, Regev said the as yet-unnamed stun grenade aims to bridge the gap between conventional military and paramilitary missions and those now managed by domestic police forces.
Avi Felder, IMI chief executive, said the new HLS directorate would incorporate the firm's Counter-Terror Academy to allow customers to mate and optimize products with operational concepts for particular domestic scenarios.
"In a very orderly way, IMI — Israel's oldest defense firm — is vectoring more than 82 years of experience on the battlefield and tailoring it to the HLS [homeland security] market, which we anticipate will surge over time due to the combination of defense spending constraints and the emergence of new domestic threats," Felder said.
He added, "HLS is an expanding market sector worldwide and we fully expect this new unit to offer a significant contribution to current and future customers."
He declined to say how much of the firm's estimated $110 million annual research and development budget would be steered in the direction of the new HLS directorate. For the past three months, the new directorate has been operating with a skeletal staff of 10, but is empowered to operate with seek synergies from other divisions and business units companywide, executives said.
Another niche area targeted for development by the new HLS directorate is long-range sniffers and explosive detectors based on laser or millimeter-wave technology, Regev said.
"Today, there's an abundance of explosive detection systems on the market, but they are limited. You need to get up close with sniffers or swipes and perform analyses," said Regev, whose previous positions in government included head of security for Israel's El Al Airlines national carrier.
"At first, we'll start testing on individuals and single objects, but eventually we see a situation where, at a soccer stadium, we'll be able to monitor the crowds coming into a gate," he said.
Israel's Government Companies Authority is managing the privatization of IMI, with plans to sell the firm to the highest qualified bidder by early next year.
With a 2,700-strong workforce, a backlog of some $US 2.12 billion and an estimated $600 million in annual sales, the firm will be sold as a single entity apart from heavy rocket propulsion and other classified programs that will remain in government hands under a new MoD-managed company called Tomer.