Men in suits and men in pressed uniforms, their chests alight with ribbons and silver wings, mingled with the largely Israeli presenters at the International Security and Defense Expo in Tel Aviv.
The three-day exhibit drew 4,000 visitors on its first day Tuesday, including the commander of Germany’s armed forces, the commanders of the Dutch, Czech and Philippine air forces, the head of South Korean ground forces and, among others, the commander of the Polish Special Forces.
All told there were 250 presenters from 20 countries exhibiting their wares. British and French firms, set to participate, withdrew from the event, reportedly unable to receive export licenses to Israel for certain offensive weapons.
For Israel though, a country that showed defense exports of $5.6 billion in 2014, the show remains a noteworthy opportunity to display local innovation, particularly to developing markets. Over the past year, for instance, Israel saw a 40 percent growth in defense-related sales to African nations, Haaretz reported in May. In general, defense sales have dropped from a 2012 peak of $7.5 billion, meaning that many smaller local companies are scrambling for international attention.
On the way out, there was a small poster of a civilian Israeli graveyard. I asked what sort of project that referred to…
At the center of the room, toward the back, there was a black padded bar, studded with rhinestones and offering two sorts of Jack Daniels. Around it were booths that featured everything from pointy brass bullets promising especially effective and varied forms of lethality, to palm-sized drones and bullet-proof tires and 5,500-liter disposable water bags.
I started at the beginning. The Israel Military Industries occupied the first booth. There were gray ceramic plates of the sort that can be inserted in the front and back of a soldier’s battle vest. Each had been hit multiple times by different-sized bullets. One could insert a finger and feel the depth to which the bullets had penetrated without breaking through the armor, noting the way the circular rotation of the bullet tore at the plate. One could also look at a model of the fortified cement bus shelters that are built to withstand a direct hit from a 122mm rocket such as the Grad.
But one could not speak to anyone at the booth because the spokeswoman was not present, and IMI, a government-owned corporation, has its rules.
Farther in, along the central lane, was a shiny blue Mercedes truck. A Uruguayan-born Kibbutznik from Beit Alfa Technologies, a private company owned by the eponymous kibbutz, said it was a riot-control vehicle. Meir Yakter pointed out the water cannon, which can emit a 70-meter spray in a continuous stream or in pulses. It can inject tear gas, pepper spray, or dye into the stream. It can fire foul-smelling “skunk” water. The vehicle itself, he said, is smooth and cannot be easily mounted. It is outfitted with tear gas nozzles. The truck, built from years of experience, can spray foam under the chassis and across the upper deck to extinguish Molotov cocktails. The interior cabin is air tight and has its own air filtration system.
It was made for the Israeli police and military forces, Yakter said, but is sold around the world, including to prisons, where the water cannon system can be mounted on a fixed platform.
Farther along, El Far Electronics Systems displayed a patch of black metal fence. It was equipped with a vibration sensor, cameras, and a seismic sensor that detects tunneling. Sagi Laron, a marketing executive, said the company has laid 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) of “smart fence” abroad and an additional 500 kilometers in Israel. A lunch box-sized kit can be attached to a car and provide protection against terror-related tinkering, such as the attaching of an explosive device to a vehicle, and theft, particularly in the agricultural sector.
Shmulik Bakerman of Aqualife, had a 5,500-liter (1,500 gallon) water pillow on display. The Israel Water Authority, he said, had purchased the product. It’s easy to store and transport. Unlike the hard plastic containers of old it needn’t be cleaned and is easily transported. It’s laid on top of a platform linked to multi-spigot drinking fountain. If a city’s main water line is hit by a missile or the drinking water is contaminated by an earthquake, the system will be distributed throughout the country, he said.
Nearby, a Czech company called Lanex was displaying a military-grade rope with a polyamide core and a Kevlar coating. In a video, Jiri Gazda, a product manager, screened a video of a taut rope being shot at close range. It took 10, nine-millimeter bullets to break the weave.
Vishweshwar Rao Japala, the business director of the Hyderabad-based company Safesure, in a black and white polka dot shirt under a pin-stripe jacket, displayed a tire with a polymer filling. The air will surge out of the tire with the impact of a bullet or a piece of shrapnel, but the hard plastic filling will not shatter, he said. His Israeli partner said the tires have been introduced to an array of IDF vehicles.
What else, you ask? Well, two-way radio accessories that look like iPhone earbuds and can be used undercover; new IDF uniforms, made with dry-fit fabric around the body’s core and a harder rip-stop fabric in the arms and legs; polycarbonate eye protection glasses, which have already been introduced in the IDF and should cut down eye injuries; and an eight-kilogram (16 pound) drone that can fit in the truck of a sedan and fly a seven-kilo load for 50 minutes, capable of delivering rescue supplies to narrow spaces and explosives to targets.
Beyond that, a fire and weather resistant aluminum structure that sets up in 10 minutes and sleeps six; hammers that don’t break or spark; a micro UAV, still in prototype stage, that is designed to roll and fly through a tunnel; a palm-sized drone with a day and night camera that soldiers can launch and control with a tablet computer, intended to operate in the urban environment.
Miron Kamay, the business development director at SKK UAV, a Rosh Ha’ayin-based firm, said that the small green drone is still nameless. “It’s only just been born,” he said.
Finally, on the way out, there was a small poster of a civilian Israeli graveyard. I asked Amir Ziv of AGM Dan, what sort of project that referred to. He pointed to a large trailer, several yards away. It can be air-conditioned, he said. It comes with body bags and slabs. There is space on the bag to write down what you know of the casualty. “No one wants to talk about that sort of thing,” he said, “but in the event of a mass disaster…”
Then he went on to talk about the durability of the Wilton hammers and the ingenuity of a sleek and shiny little fire truck that can operate off-road.