Elbit Systems looks to the future

The electronic weaponry leader expands overseas through local subsidiaries.

elbit tank 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
elbit tank 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
According to Joseph Ackerman, President and CEO, the secret of the success of Elbit Systems - in growing to its current status as one of the world's leading defense electronics manufacturers - is its long-term vision. "We always think in the long-term - five, 10 years ahead," he told The Jerusalem Post in an interview last week. "We enter new markets, we move into new fields, all with a look to the future." Elbit Systems, which trades on both the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and NASDAQ, is an international defense electronics company headquartered in Haifa, operating in aerospace, land and naval systems. The company is involved in such advanced technologies as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and situational-awareness helmets which give military aircraft pilots an integrated view of the flight situation on a virtual display in front of their eyes. Ackerman admitted it was not always obvious to look years ahead when dealing with a stock focused on quarterly results. "We never hid the fact that we were in it for the long-term. We spoke about it honestly with investors and analysts - and they learned to value that thinking." "Ultimately, there is no contradiction between being a publicly traded company and having a long-term perspective." Ackerman said that Elbit's hiring strategy has also been related to its long-term view. "We always make sure to take on only those people who are willing to stick with us in the long run. "As a matter of fact, Israel is blessed with wonderful people for this kind of work," he said. "I need people who are technologically talented, who have a good understanding of both technical and combat needs, and here in Israel you find the best of those type of people - by the way, both men and women." "Elbit has the luxury of choosing out of a pool of very talented people only those who are ready to make the long-term commitment that we demand," said Ackerman. "Once they are onboard we can give them the freedom to be creative and develop new directions." Elbit Systems is involved in a wide variety of the most advanced weaponry systems available, such as Helmet Mounted Systems, which provide a significant increase in situational awareness and safety, in operational use by US pilots since the mid 1990's. Meanwhile, due to the rise of unconventional warfare, Elbit Systems has been supplying remote-controlled weapon stations for use in urban conflicts, so that soldiers' exposure to enemy fire is minimized, as well as armored vehicle upgrades, fire control systems, thermal-imaging and laser systems and electrical turret drives. They are currently engaged in integrating all of these for the IDF's Digital Army Program, which Elbit Systems is heading up. Elbit Systems' unmanned systems play a pivotal role in today's global war on terror and are considered to be the backbone of the Israeli Defense Forces' fight against terror in Gaza and the West Bank. Defense and Homeland Security forces around the world benefit from the UAVs' ability to perform sophisticated missions without risking pilots' lives. These systems served the IDF during the recent war in Lebanon, and are currently deployed by several countries as part of the coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. In order to implement a global vision for their technologies, Elbit has set up subsidiaries in all of the countries with which it does business. "Israel is a small country, with a limited defense budget," said Ackerman. "But we cannot export arms that are manufactured in this country, because governments prefer to spend their defense budgets locally. So we set up subsidiaries, thus allowing our American client to buy from an American company, providing American jobs." Elbit is also a world-leader in electro-optics, working in cooperation with global agencies which are engaged in space exploration for civilian and scientific applications worldwide. Elbit Systems is, moreover, a major participant in the Israeli Space Program and the Ofek satellites, as well as in other space programs, including the EROS program of ImageSat International and the Venus project (a joint venture with the French CNES space agency). Elbit Systems, in partnership with Israel Aircraft Industries, is also working on the Guardium UGV (unmanned ground vehicle), a product of their joint venture company, G-nius. The cutting-edge UGV boasts extended and continuous operation, as well as systems allowing for all-weather conditions and uninterrupted transmittance of visual, audio and target data back to the operator without any risk to human lives. But Ackerman is modest about the company's specific technological achievements, preferring to focus on the strategic vision for which the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange recently named Elbit Systems one of its top five model companies. "We are very proud to be a 'do what we say and say what we do' company," he said. "We are very clear about our plans, and we make sure to follow through on them."