Army picks construction firms for cutting-edge campus in southern Israel

Israel’s Shikun & Binui and AFI Group win tender to work on IDF’s new ICT center at an estimated $2 billion cost

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustration of the Israeli Army's new digital campus in Beersheba (IDF spokesperson unit)
Illustration of the Israeli Army's new digital campus in Beersheba (IDF spokesperson unit)

The Israeli army has selected the two construction firms that will build its new tech campus in the south of Israel, where the IDF plans to relocate many of its units as part of a multiyear plan of streamlining and digitalizing.

The IDF said on Monday that Israel’s Shikun & Binui and Africa Israel (AFI Group) won the tender to start work on its new information and communications technology center this year, with a cost estimated at NIS 7 billion ($2 billion). They will build operate and run the center for 25 years, the army said in a statement.

The campus, spread over an area of 150,000 square meters (180,000 square yards), will be erected at the Gav-Yam Negev Advanced Technologies park, in the proximity of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Beersheba. It will serve some 5,000 soldiers and career officers from the IDF’s intelligence units, including its cybersecurity units, which will relocate from the center of the country.

The new base, the IDF’s first technological project in the south of Israel, is touted as being at the cutting edge of digitalization, with smart and energy efficient buildings and advanced infrastructure. The project is part of the army’s push to revamp itself for the digital age in a bid to banish its image of a large, autocratic war machine, and replace it with that of a fast-moving, tech-led organization with super-smart digs and a focus on new computer centers, new and advanced communications infrastructure and smart technological components.

The IDF’s tech campus, spread over a built area of 150,000 square meters, will be erected at the tech park of Gav-Yam, in the proximity of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Beer Sheva. (IDF spokesperson unit)

The campus will enable “accelerated and unprecedented development of operational and technological processes” and will bring about a “rapid improvement in the operational capabilities of the IDF,” the statement said.

The army also hopes that the campus will lead to a flourishing of the local economy, through the employment of hundreds of workers and the creation of new jobs around the campus. Soldiers will have close relations with researchers and development at the university, leading to joint projects and a fertile exchange of ideas, the army hopes. All of this will strengthen the Beersheba metropolis as a new technology center in Israel, with an emphasis on cybersecurity and digitization, the army said.

The new campus and the revamped image it hopes to bring to the army is meant to make sure, among other things, that the best and the brightest of its minds stay within the army ranks, rather than get lured away by the fat salaries tech giants are offering in the civilian market.

With Israel’s startup scene flourishing and multinationals setting up research and development centers, a shortage of engineers is heating up the competition for skilled personnel, with companies offering higher and higher salaries to recruit talent.

Illustrative. An IDF soldier from the C4I Corps types on a computer. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The digital center is just one of a number of projects the army has initiated in the south of Israel, at a total cost of some NIS 57 billion. One of the projects that is already operational is the setting up of a training center that hosts some 10,000 soldiers and career officers.

Lt. Col. Yael Grossman of the Cyber ​​Defense Division said that the transfer of the technological elite units provides the IDF “with a golden opportunity to lead the digital transformation” of the army. “There is no doubt that the proximity of all the IT units and other IDF operational and technological bodies will accelerate cooperation and knowledge-sharing processes that will lead to unprecedented operational-technological synergy,” she said.

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