The Defense Ministry worked with 206 start-ups on defense technology issues, several of which it is bringing to this week’s DSEI defense technology conference in London, it announced on Monday.
The ministry said that 35 defense companies, including seven start-ups that are part of the ministry’s Innofense program, are attending the conference and helped open Israel’s exhibition there.
Ministry SIBAT (Exports) head Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yair Kulas said that “the Israeli defense industry embodies investment in technological advancement, creativity, and audacious innovation which combines rich operational experience and a defense establishment on the cutting-edge of technology, which helps the IDF defend state security.”
Defense Ministry Director-General Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eyal Zamir pushed hard to include the start-ups in the biannual DSEI conference as opposed to only the traditional Israeli tech giants attending.
It can also be cost-prohibitive for start-ups to pay for and attend such conferences on their own, such that the ministry’s support is significant.
Show us the money
According to a ministry report on Innofense, the MAFAT Research and Development Division has received $307 million in start-up-related orders in recent years.
Nineteen start-ups are leaders in projects related to Irregular Warfare Technical Support and six more start-ups are involved in government-to-government defense projects worth S44m.
Out of 119 start-ups with seed money from the ministry, their average for raising funds for their products is $8.8m.
The report discussed three specific companies with products that can be used both for military and civilian needs from the Innofense start-up program, part of the program’s third class.
Innofense program head IDF Lt.-Col. “D.” told The Jerusalem Post in February, at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, that “every organization needs an innovative and ready to dash out start-up-style attitude in their organization.”
The ministry’s push runs in parallel to similar efforts by the Mossad and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
D also said there is even some “cooperation with the Shin Bet and the Mossad between our various innovation staffs, with some of us investing in some of the same companies, and there are personnel that jump between the organizations,” but that it is important that the ministry invests in start-ups which will tailor their work to its and the IDF’s unique needs.
He added that “Israel is the Start-Up Nation. The Defense Ministry and the IDF also want to utilize the advantages of start-ups.
“Those preceding me in this role encouraged brainstorming and dialogue about how funds are being used with the defense industry and we decided to use Innofense as our platform for the Defense Ministry to work with start-ups,” he explained.
The Innofense chief described how certain elements of dealing with start-ups are different from the ministry’s standard dealings with defense companies like Rafael or Elbit. For example, the companies will want to keep the intellectual property relating to the start-ups to themselves. Also, the ministry must pay the start-ups part of the funds before they start, said D.
Once a start-up candidate is selected, “We accompany them, we assist them with accompanying technological and operational needs, including getting them special approvals and handling some bureaucratic business issues – we get them all the external things they need to succeed.”
After three months the candidate start-ups are usually selected and after six months, they present the proof of concept, said D.
He added that “there is cooperation between all the different arms of the IDF. So you achieve something in three months instead of taking years. The year’s paradigm comes from a very slow standardized mechanism with many protocols and rules. But in order to change these rules and still cover information security and other issues, you need to be someone who knows those rules in depth.”
The ministry has turned specifically to start-ups because “they want to succeed and make a profit. We want someone who is hungry with lightning in their eyes. From the first moment they wake up in the morning, they are committed to making their idea happen – and this can help me.”
While the conference was happening, Elbit Systems unveiled its latest development in the world of unmanned aerial systems: The Find-and-Strike (FAST) Capsule, combining the Skylark III and SkyStriker Loitering Munition (LM).
Elbit stated that the Skylark III is a “leading Small-Tactical Intelligence unmanned aerial system, equipped with the most advanced intelligence gathering sensors and with extensive endurance of up to 18 hours.”
The defense technology company explained that it is designed to support missions for intelligence surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance in environments despite GPS being jammed. Further, the Skylark III is capable of integrating a range of payloads including high-resolution Electro-Optical gimbaled payload, SIGINT (signal intelligence) sensors, laser designators, and other items.
Elbit Systems’ SkyStriker LM is a “fully autonomous loitering munition that can locate, acquire and engage operator designated targets with a flexible warhead of up to 10 Kg, enabling high-precision performance.”