Meet the trailblazer woman in Israel's Defense Ministry cyber R&D

MILITARY AFFAIRS: Maj. Neta Blum, leading the Cyber Section of the Defense Ministry’s R&D body, wants the next generation of girls to follow in her footsteps.

 MAJ. NETA BLUM: I wanted to explore and study something new. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone.  (photo credit: NIR SLAKMAN)
MAJ. NETA BLUM: I wanted to explore and study something new. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone.
(photo credit: NIR SLAKMAN)

Not everyone can say they’ve commanded one of the most important and strategic departments in their country’s defense ministry before reaching the age of 30.

But Maj. Neta Blum can.

A trailblazer in her own right, Blum is the head of Cyber Section in the Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Research and Development, known by the Hebrew acronym MAFAT.

“It’s a big responsibility to be in charge of game-changing projects,” Blum told The Jerusalem Post. “Many people and organizations are involved, and projects worth millions of dollars are at stake.”

“It’s a big responsibility to be in charge of game-changing projects. Many people and organizations are involved, and projects worth millions of dollars are at stake.”

Maj. Neta Blum

She began her career in a program called Brakim, an excellence initiative that combined undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering at Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology while she completed her military service. Blum was the only woman in the elite four-year program that only half of the original students ultimately completed.

After graduating from the program, she spent her military service in the Israel Air Force investigating airplane crashes before moving to MAFAT, where she first served as head of the Aviation Sciences Section.

 IN ADDITION to her day job at MAFAT and her volunteer work, Blum is also in the midst of completing her PhD at the Technion. (credit: Tal Oz) IN ADDITION to her day job at MAFAT and her volunteer work, Blum is also in the midst of completing her PhD at the Technion. (credit: Tal Oz)

“I wanted to explore and study something new. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I am always looking for the next step in my career and I’ve been the first woman in many leadership positions in MAFAT.”

Like in Brakim, she was the only woman in the Aviation Sciences Section. But, she explained, because of those unique positions that she had the “privilege” to serve in, she was on the Forbes “30 under 30” list when she was 27 years old.

“Being the head of a Cyber Section in the Defense Ministry and MAFAT, I am pushed and set to strive as a woman in tech on a daily basis,” she said.

Working at MAFAT

MAFAT, a joint Defense Ministry and IDF body, produces exceptional results in both defense research and development because of the integration and cooperation between the two.

It is responsible for developing innovative concepts for defense technology, managing the Defense Ministry’s short- and long-term projects, overseeing the research and development of defense technology, working with international partners as well as training the next generation of Israel’s defense technology professionals.

“In the air force, I was only one investigating, and once I started in MAFAT, I had the ability to create and develop technologies in all fields,” Blum said. “I always wanted to create and you hear about UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles or drones] and their importance everywhere, and I always think about what could be the next thing to help Israel.”

During her time at MAFAT, Blum has had the chance to work with many people from countries and organizations around the world, including with NASA in the United States.

Blum has always wanted to make an impact on the country. She said she truly enjoys going into the office in the morning and saying to colleagues, “What does the country need and what can we do for it?”

“I always wanted to make an impact, even as a kid. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Here we have the privilege to be involved in great projects,” she said.

WHILE THE majority of her work is classified, she in her previous role, her department, along with Israel Aerospace Industries produced the country’s first 3D printed UAV called “SkysPrinter.”

The 3D printed drone comprises 26 separate parts made of metal, nylon, carbon and other complex materials as well as an electric engine. It had its first successful flight test in December 2019.

“It was a big project and a big success,” she said. “It’s amazing to see a project go from dream to reality.”

Blum could not expand on the various projects in her present role as the head of the Cyber Section. However, she said, “We make a big impact with our cyber activities. MAFAT is always at the forefront in terms of new technologies. We deal with challenges by always staying number one by inventing technology that is needed to protect the country.”

But her work is not only limited to MAFAT. Blum has also been instrumental in promoting women in technology and cyber with various programs

“You don’t see many women in these kinds of fields, especially in cyber. From a young age I’ve always been working mostly with men, and I always wanted to change that.”

Even with an extremely busy day job, Blum founded a program called “AT” in order to push more girls into STEM programs in Israel. The program, which targets high-school students already focused on subjects like technology, math and physics, has other female tech leaders from around the world volunteer to mentor the students to “not give up.”

“We serve as role models and living proof for young female students. And we tell them that ‘you can do it,’” she said.

In addition to her day job at MAFAT and her volunteer work, Blum is also in the midst of completing her PhD at the Technion.

Because of her previous experience as an aircraft accident investigator, Blum’s PhD research is focused on exploring how the Saint-Venant’s principle (SVP), a tenet of structural mechanics, works in soft biological tissues.

“When a plane crashes, you need to understand everything. And there’s the SVP principle that I took from aviation in order to evaluate and research tumors in the body and to see if it applies,” she explained.

“I think you can learn from any field and combine it together. Doesn’t matter in which aspect in life,” Blum added.

When asked what her future looks like, Blum said she always looks for the next role where she can learn and create. As she is still on active military duty, Blum said she sees herself climbing the ranks in the IDF.

“I think with hard work, you can get wherever you want. When you have a goal, just point yourself toward it and you will get to it,” she said. “Don’t be scared of failures. Everyone fails. Just pick yourself up and continue toward your goal. You will get there.”