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Flying High

David Damen, Paris

Aircraft that will be used in another forty years, helicopters without wings and planes without fuel were just some of the aviation innovations exhibited at the international Paris Air Show this summer. But the king of the show was Israel, with its latest military and civilian innovations — racking up contracts with other countries and topping its already bulging seven billion dollar annual exports.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

After tagging the massive crowds snaking around the Israel pavilion at this summer’s international Paris Air Show at Le Bourget, it wasn’t a surprise to hear that Ashkelon mayor Benny Vaknin last week begged the defense ministry to bring back the Iron Dome missile defense system to protect his own territory.

Iron Dome, the star of the international air show, was designed to intercept short-range missiles fired by Hamas terrorists at Israeli towns. The version unveiled at Le Bourget can be mounted on trucks for quick redeployment, and with the recent escalation of missile fire from Gaza, it’s no wonder that Ashkelon is demanding their protection back after a lull of quiet.  

Sitting in the press box and mingling with the crowds, we Jews became heroes of sorts: at Le Bourget, the State of Israel is a superpower, one of the most sought-after countries at the show. Here the word “Israel” is stated almost reverently. Even if Europe considers it an “occupying” state, it is still the unequivocal symbol of unprecedented technological success.

The biannual expo is the main event in aerospace marketing and the place where mega-transactions are born. This is the place to be for presenting the latest military and civilian aerospace innovations. And front-runner Israeli companies have revealed everything that isn’t top-secret, from new concepts in land warfare and innovative systems for active defense of armored vehicles, to advanced missile systems, spy and communications satellites, sophisticated radars, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that do everything but prepare your lunch.

“Israel is one of the largest exporters in this field, exporting more than seven billion dollars of merchandise annually,” says Guy Zuri, director of aerospace, defense, and homeland security for the Defense Ministry. At this summer’s air show, Israeli innovations “stole the show” as the defense industry hopes to top their bulging export record.

These exports include the latest systems, from smart helmets to advanced aviation and lethal missiles systems, many of which were displayed here at the Elbit, Rafael, Israel Aircraft Industries, Aeronautics, and other Israeli companies’ exhibits. In all, fifteen companies exhibited their wares this year.

The front runners at Le Bourget — visited by close to half a million people and the entire who’s who of the international defense establishment —– were Rafael’s Iron Dome short-range missile and artillery interceptor system, and the Trophy Windbreaker anti-tank missile defense system. The abilities that these systems have displayed on Israel’s southern border have not been lost on the greater defense community, and according to Guy, many armies have their eyes on these systems.

Israel Aircraft Industries, not to be outdone by its sworn competitor, put out its newest advances as well: The Barak 8 aerial defense system launcher, alongside the Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 missile interceptors that can shoot down ground-to-ground missiles; and an advanced laser/GPS guided long-range projectile with a warhead to provide super-accurate point-and-shoot capabilities from fighter jets and light planes. 

Suddenly we hear a deafening roar, and even in the crowded Israeli pavilion, all heads are suddenly turned toward the sky: the French warplane Rafale is about to show off and no one wants to miss out. The Rafael, produced by Dassault Aviation, is a multipurpose warplane that has already been involved in NATO-led combat operations over Libya and frontline duty in Afghanistan. When watching its amazing performance, you can forget about the annual Israeli aircraft maneuvers displayed each year on Independence Day. This plane’s stunts reach new heights of spins and dips, and it can change direction at lightning speed and within tiny radiuses, so much so that I begin to worry for the pilot’s welfare.

When the Rafale soars and then dives sharply toward the ground, the spectators, mostly proud Frenchmen, whoop excitedly. “It’s unbelievable,” gasps Danny Danziger, the sales representative for the Israeli company Urban. “Look at the tiny radiuses in which he performs those stunts,” he says, as my own stomach lurches.

Danziger, a friendly fellow representing Urban’s product line, knows about tight turns, as he demonstrates his own company’s Air Mule helicopter. This craft is unique in that it does not feature any rotors or wings, making it possible to squeeze itself into spaces as narrow as the Pletzl in Paris. The helicopter is the ideal solution for rescue operations in tight spots such as narrow streets or dangerously steep valleys.

Guy Zuri laughs when I ask him if there was any boycott of the Israelis here. He said all you had to do was listen to the announcer who provided background and accolades for each aircraft or system before it performed. Here, the Israeli systems were considered the world’s best.

Still, Israelis don’t display their defense secrets in public. “What you see here is not what they show customers during private meetings,” Guy Zuri clarifies.


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