Ingenious innovators seek to boost soldiers’ ‘survivability’

Ten small Israeli defense export companies are showing their wares in the US this week at one of the world’s largest land warfare exhibitions

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

The Medi-T, an inflatable and sterile operating room that can be assembled in five minutes (Photo credit: Courtesy: SYS Technologies)
The Medi-T, an inflatable and sterile operating room that can be assembled in five minutes (Photo credit: Courtesy: SYS Technologies)

Say there’s vague intelligence about a terrorist who’s supposed to meet his handler in a deep Afghani ravine, known to be hidden to American ears and eyes. The meeting will take place sometime in the coming weeks but troops cannot wait on their bellies for weeks on end.

Enter the the MUGI, a real time “persistent surveillance system” designed to operate alone in the field. Easily camouflaged and movement activated, the system can provide real time video day and night, and be on hand when the meet in the ravine goes down.

The MUGI is one of several inventions being developed by Israel’s burgeoning arms industry, though buyers won’t find it in the catalog of Rafael, IMI or any of the industry’s big dogs that have made Israel one of the world’s top armaments exporters.

Rather Seraphim, which makes the MUGI, is one of several smaller companies competing for space in the field, with a number of niche products they hope find their way into the field kits and armories of the future.

Israel’s Defense Ministry is this week hosting 10 relatively small, privately owned Israeli companies at the Association of the United States Army’s annual land warfare exposition in Washington DC — one of the world’s largest such gatherings. The firms were handpicked for their innovative products.

The ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Division began aiding and assisting small and medium defense export companies three years ago. The rationale is not just to spur local economic growth but also to help the IDF.

Often the companies sell themselves abroad as being battle-tested in Israel, but only once they have signed foreign contracts and amassed enough capital to expand and complete development are they able to sell to the IDF en masse, said Deputy Director of IMOD, Itamar Graf.

An abundance of small defense companies, Graf added, is “an important part of our national security.”

What follows is a glimpse at several of the companies that are being hosted within the Israeli pavilion this year:

Robo-team, founded by Yosi Wolf and Elad Levi, old friends who served in an Israeli Air Force Special Forces unit together, will be exhibiting “a family of robotic systems.” The first, the individual robotic intelligence system (the IRIS), “is the size of half a shoe box,” according to marketing director Omri Hoter. The robot is designed to be carried on a soldier’s thigh, like a sidearm, and can send a laser signal, pick up audio and video day and night, and collect intelligence from within — say, a tunnel or a pipe. The US Department of Defense has signed a contract with Robo-team, and the IRIS, Hoter said, should be operational in Afghanistan by next month.

The medium-sized version, the micro tactical group robot (MTGR), weighs 15 pounds and can climb stairs, supply 360-degree film footage day and night and be used to either deliver or disassemble a bomb or an improvised explosive device.

The largest model, the Probot, can carry soldiers’ gear, evacuate wounded soldiers under fire and disperse non-lethal demonstrations by firing tear gas and rubber bullets and broadcasting a high frequency sound.

The company was founded in 2009 and has 50 employees. Hoter said that several of the employees still operate robots with the Special Forces in the reserves. “That’s what differentiates us from the fantasy companies,” he said, “our knowledge of technology and the field.”

SYS Technologies is an outsider in the exhibit as its focus is solely on life-saving technology, said Sagi Unger, one of the founders of the company and a 20-year veteran of the IDF’s medical corps.

The company began as the brainchild of Dr. Shalom Zilbershmidt, an Israeli dental surgeon who lives in Italy and has performed aid work across the developing world. He realized that what’s true in Africa is also true on the battlefield, said Unger, adding that “many patients die due to the lack of a sterile operation area.”

The Medi-T portable operating room weighs 97 kg and can be carried in three bags (Photo credit: Courtesy: SYS Technologies)
The Medi-T portable operating room weighs 97 kilograms and can be carried in three bags (photo credit: Courtesy SYS Technologies)

Zilbershmidt, Unger and engineer Yossi Tzur developed the Medi-T, a portable and sterile operating room that can be carried in three bags and erected, they say, within five minutes. The Medi-T operates on positive pressure technology, pumping air into the inflatable operating room through 26 HEPA filters and replacing the entire air volume 70 times an hour. The unit, which can fit an entire surgical team, is equipped with internal lighting and climate control.

The company was founded in 2011, has five employees other than the three founders, and has already sold its product to Doctors Without Borders and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Medi-T was in operational use in March.

Meprolight is an electro-optic company that will be showcasing uncooled thermal night and day scopes for snipers. Its scopes, “fortunately or unfortunately, have all been battle proven,” said Benny Kokia, the director of sales and marketing in North America. Kokia added that the United States Armed Forces’ battles in the Middle East have “enabled them to understand what they need” and given them an increased “appreciation of what we provide.”

A Meprolight thermal scope on a high-powered sniper rifle (Photo credit: Courtesy: Meprolight)
A Meprolight thermal scope on a high-powered sniper rifle (Photo credit: Courtesy: Meprolight)

Meprolight’s scopes can detect a target at 1,830 metres (2,000 yards); capture and store still images; stream and record video in real time; upload and download data with a USB; and automatically compute the necessary adjustments that all snipers must make based on the distance of the target and the weapon’s ballistic track.

The thermal scopes, which provide a heat signature and a clear silhouette of a target, are advantageous on today’s battlefields. Not only do they work well in bad weather but at night, in urban environments, they are not blinded by light like the green starlight scopes of old, which are crippled by bursts of illumination.

Kokia said the company is global, has 180 employees, and includes several “professional snipers” within its ranks.

Seraphim’s MUGI and Chameleon II, a smaller version made for the shorter distances of the urban environment, can help keep an eye on the enemy, whether hidden in the Khyber Pass or Ciudad Juarez. The company is headed by Lt. Col. (res) Israel Kasher, a veteran of the IDF’s intelligence corps and a recipient of the Israel Defense Prize.

The MUGI and the Chameleon II can activate themselves based on movement, remain in the field for months — working either on batteries or solar panels — are easily camouflaged, and can provide real time video day and night. The roughly 6 x 12 inch MUGI monitor captures a 90 degree field of vision but does not swivel or glint in the light, the telltale signs of a foreign presence in the field.

Vice president of marketing Gadi Bar-Ner said that the systems have been tested in combat situations but that the company has also been putting “a very strong emphasis” on border protection. “The Rio Grande is my wet dream,” he said of his desire to have his products used along the US-Mexico border.

RADA is an electronics company that has worked with Boeing and Lockheed Martin, developing navigational systems and radars for fighter jets. At the pavilion it is showing a new ground tactical radar that can be installed in an armed personnel carrier or jeep. The radars “catch anything that moves,” said deputy director of business development Dubi Sella.

An illustration of a tank-based radar that could alert the soldiers inside to the type and location of incoming fire (Photo credit: Courtesy: RADA)
An illustration of an APC-based radar that could alert the soldiers inside to the type and location of incoming fire (Photo credit: Courtesy: RADA)

The radars provide troops in the field with advance warning of incoming fire, whether from a curved trajectory mortar or directly fired rocket, and provides an exact location of the source of the fire. The advance warning, Sella said, increases “the survivability of the troops,” and the information on the precise location of the enemy enables them “to complete their mission.”

The company is based in Netanya and Bet She’an and has 100 employees.

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