JERUSALEM — For the first time Israel has made a government-to-government deal with Montenegro for $35 million that will see Elbit Systems provide remote control weapons stations to the Balkan country.
The agreement was inked Dec. 15 in Tel Aviv, Israel, between a Montenegro delegation that included Defence Minister Predrag Boskovic and the Israeli Defense Ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate, known as SIBAT. Other attendees included the Israeli Defense Ministry director general, retired Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, and SIBAT’s retired Brig. Gen. Yair Kulas.
Elbit’s remote control weapons stations are to be mounted on Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicles manufactured in the United States. The RCWS enables the gunner to fire from within the vehicle and can be used while in motion, according to Elbit. It can be used during the day and night as well as in open areas, urban environments and anti-air scenarios. The company described the 12.7mm system as “lightweight, low silhouette, dual axis and stabilized, mounted externally onboard armored vehicles.”
The general manager of Elbit Systems’ Land and C4I Division, Udi Vered, said the sale of the RCWSs for the JLTV expands the company’s NATO customer base of RCWS operators and strengthens cooperation with Oshkosh.
Past RCWS sales have included a deal with Brazil in 2017, and a separate deal with Canada involving German company Rheinmetall, as well as several recent deals in Asia to unnamed countries.
The contract is to be completed in a three-year period, followed by seven years of logistical support. It follows a deal for Israeli radar systems for the Czech Republic, as well as a German Army contract award to Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The recent activity reflects a growing trend of Israeli relations and security inroads into Central and Eastern Europe.
Montenegro’s Defence Ministry said in a statement there were two ministerial visits this year to Israel, which were meant to “form the basis for cooperation between the two [defense] ministries in the field of procurement and modernization.” The Balkan country also said the agreement has strategic importance and serves as a stepping stone to expanding cooperation with Israel “since Israel is widely considered a country that has vast experience and technological improvements in the field of defense.”
Montenegro conducted years of market research and wants to increase the firepower of its Army’s light armored vehicles and provide its soldiers with additional protection.
“The Ministry of Defence of Montenegro is striving to equip the armed forces in order to improve its interoperability and ability to meet current security challenges," the ministry noted. The country sees this as a way to secure its national defense and contribute to maintaining peace in the region “on a larger scale.”
Montenegro, which joined NATO in 2017, has sought U.S. support for countering cyberthreats. It has also faced threats from Russia and Serbia related to election meddling, and NATO members have participated in Montenegro-based hybrid warfare drills. Montenegro has a small Army and a population of less than 1 million people. It is in a sensitive region near Albania, Kosovo and Serbia, bordering on areas of intense fighting in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. It has sought to upgrade its equipment, purchasing 67 of the Oshkosh JLTVs, according to reports in October.
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.