JERUSALEM — The Israeli government has been on the fence about supporting Ukraine with weapons, but defense companies here are eager to pounce on sales opportunities in Europe to restock inventories depleted by donations to Kyiv.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a major increase in defense spending and procurement across Europe. Western countries seek to balance the needs of aiding Ukraine with resupplying their own stockpiles of munitions and buying new systems to prepare for future conflicts.
For Israel’s big three defense contractors — Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems — this represents a potential boon. In mid-April, for example, Israel’s Defense Ministry said Germany was in advanced negotiations to acquire Israel’s Arrow 3 air defense system. Finland is also acquiring the David’s Sling missile defense system, and Greece has announced a deal to acquire Spike missiles and drones.
The three companies each already have a presence in Europe. Some have local subsidiaries or agreements with European defense companies, or unique European footprints, such as Rafael’s EuroSpike program. That means they are in a position to quickly react to new procurement plans.
For Niv Cohen, who leads Rafael’s land maneuver systems business, the war in Ukraine has emphasized a need for land warfare equipment in particular.
“The conflict has highlighted the principles of land maneuvering and holding territory conquered during battle,” he said. “This understanding of operational requirements has led to countries in Europe and around the world to develop serious plans for purchase and procurement of fighting vehicles, especially tanks.”
Cohen also pointed to the related market of protective equipment to complement those vehicle fleets.
Rafael hopes those market dynamics bode well for its Trophy active protection system. The U.S. and Germany have already acquired the Trophy for their Abrams and Leopard tanks, respectively. The system has been operational in Israel since 2011, and Cohen said it has received upgrades since to meet changing threats.
The company established EuroTrophy last year as a Europe-based company in partnership with Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Spain-based General Dynamics European Land Systems.
With the interest in active protection systems growing in Europe, Rafael has transferred the supply chain for its EuroTrophy and EuroSpike programs to the continent.
“Given the difficulties in the global supply chain, our local manufacturing capabilities provide flexibility, efficiency and a streamlined process to help avoid the obstacles we identify here in Israel or in any arena,” Cohen said.
Ran Kril, Elbit’s executive vice president for international marketing and business development, said a huge demand exists for artillery system munitions, protection capabilities and electronic warfare weaponry.
The company’s acquisition of IMI in 2018 added new munitions as well as artillery and rocket systems to the company’s portfolio. Kril point to this as enabling Elbit to potentially fill orders for countries that have seen munitions shipped to and consumed by Ukraine in the war.
Elbit has built a network of local offshoots across Europe, including in the U.K., Sweden, Switzerland and Germany, that are meant to boost the promise of local workshare in future sales.
“They are expanding that as we speak because we understand the increase of the budget doesn’t mean they are willing to buy from outside; they would like most of the work, and also development or maintenance. They expect to see more activities done in the country, so a strategy of establishing subsidiaries is one layer of the strategy, and this is in partnership with other companies. [It’s] a win-win for both of us for programs,” Kril said.
At IAI, CEO Boaz Levy said he hopes to bring his company into play in Europe by linking equipment across the air, space, land and sea domains of warfare.
“This is where I will connect it to Europe,” he said. “IAI now has a lot of products that are suitable for the war that is taking place in Europe and gives us a view toward the future battlespace. When you look at the war there, you will see the requirements for better situational awareness and capabilities for space that are unique to IAI.”
While Levy didn’t mention specific customers, he did point to the firm’s Barak missile as an example of a product that has seen recent success, as well as radars and loitering munitions. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, for example have acquired the radar used with Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. Elta, a subsidiary of IAI, produces the radar.
Seth J. Frantzman is the Israel correspondent for Defense News. He has covered conflict in the Mideast since 2010 for different publications. He has experience covering the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is a co-founder and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.