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BY ARIE EGOZI
Israel Aeroapce Industries is the largest defense industry in Israel and one of the world’s leaders in certain fields such as UAVs. We’ve met for a talk on this and other matters with Sharly Ben Chetrit, Executive VP Marketing in IAI.
Can Israel and particularly IAI, maintain their status in the UAV field facing growing competition?
IAI is an international pioneer in the UAV field and we are celebrating right now a 40th birthday for the first UAV it ever made – the Scout, which brought a new message to the world.
Today, after 40 years in the field, there is competition at home and outside and it is just growing larger, but even so, IAI is leading the field with technological innovation and one of the widest varieties of aerial vehicles in the market today. Very few other companies have in their range of products UAVs from 1kg to 5 tons.
In light of the company’s wide portfolio of UAVs we find ourselves competing with many companies, from startups that develop tactical aerial systems to technological empires developing strategic unmanned systems.
The “unmanned market”, both in the air as in land, is charaterized by a constant growth, and IAI is investing its best resources, including R&D funds, to promote these matters and I expect it will keep being a major player and leader in this market. It’s important to note that IAI is home for combined systems that make use of technolgy in the fields of radar and optic sensors, advanced communication systems and comand and control system to every level of command.
These abilities allow IAI to offer overall solutions for clients’ operations, not just aerial vehicles.
It’s true that some countries, like China, offer a range of UAVs for anyone and everyone but serious clients don’t view these system, which are usually sold very cheap, as an operationl alternative.
But competition is growing and the only way to keep our status in the invest in new technology constantly.
Do you think growing competition between Israeli security companies damages the situation of the companies themselves?
Overlapping fields between the companies isn’t large and the competition is focused in specific areas. Sometimes there’s more noise than actual competition. When there’s a need, we cooperate with competitors because it’s called for when facing strong competition from foreign companies. It’s clear to me that today, when competing Israeli companies realise that competition will cause them losses, a cooperation will occur.
The main advantage of competition is in the fact that it pushes for exellence, both in business and technology. We compete in tenders all the time, often with great success.
Lately the company has won a tender for UAV systems in Asia, after competing with companies from Israel and the United States. IAI sees the decision as a vote of confidence in its Heron UAV – a system which was sold to a large number of clients throughout the world and has proven itself in the most complex battlefields in the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan and even the Middle East, with remarkable capabilities.
What is happening in the European market of UAVs?
IAI continues its marketing efforts in several countries in Europe – among others, an effort to sell its large Heron TP to Germany. Europeans are aware of the fact that their joint European UAV will not be ready to operate in the next 10-15 and theyneed a good solution until then. We’re working on this matter in a collaboration the European concern EADS.
Ben Chetrit says that not a lot of companies in the world can provide UAVs from half a kilo to 5 tons. “The military clients know exactly what they are buying and when they see what we have to offer, they have no doubts.”
The American military assistance sometimes prevents purchase of Israeli defense systems. Do you think that’s a serious matter?
The military funds Israel is receiving is a blessing and it helps expand business operations for companies who are wise enough to use these funds . IAI has several leading projects on which it cooperates with American companies for development and supply of some of the world’s most advanced systems to IDF.
How do you see the international presence of IAI in the upcoming years?
IAI is examining constantly and methodically what’s going on in target markets and is working to focus efforts according to updated assessments. Although IAI is active in most international markets, we intend to strengthen our grip in traditional markets as well as open new markets in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
There’s also a lot to be done is the United States, where a revolution is needed, especially in the company’s business development including establishing and purchasing of significant local companies.
Ben Chetrit says that IAI must increase its international deployment by establishing companies in certain countries of significant potential. “It’s mostly true with markets such as India and the U.S., where we have a need to purchase a local company with volume turnover of no less than $50 million. We have the Stark company which is already very active in several fields, but we need more companies like it wherever there’s potential.”
Ben Chetrit also says that certain countries demand local production as a condition for purchase. India is a recent example and that’s why , he says, IAI should increase cooperation with Indian companies.
“We’ve analysed our whole international presence and we have conclusions. I expect to see changes soon.”
What are the company’s plans for executive jets?
IAI is the aeronautics center of Israel. A lot of the company’s capabilities are presented in developing, manufacturing and licensing executive jets – a field which the company has been in for dozens of years.
IAI, along with its partner – Gulfstream – has completed the development of the G280 around two years ago – a jet which is considered the best of its kind in the world, and is now in series production.
On top of that, the company is working in several channels to find business partners to promote projects for developing a future civilian airplane that will combine its varied abilities while applying demands and expectations of the market in issues such as flight safety, the environment and operation costs.