South China Sea is warming up, the ability of U.S. troops to deter and defeat great power authoritarian adversaries hangs in the balance. To win this competition, Washington must beef up its military cooperative research and development efforts with tech-savvy democratic allies. At the top of that list should be Israel.
Two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee understand this well. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., introduced S 3775, the “United States-Israel Military Capability Act of 2020,” on Wednesday. This bipartisan legislation would require the establishment of a U.S.-Israel operations-technology working group. As the senators wrote in a February letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the working group would help ensure U.S. “warfighters never encounter a more technologically advanced foe.”
Israel is one of America’s closest and most technologically advanced allies. The country boasts an “innovative and agile defense technology sector” that is a “global leader in many of the technologies important to Department of Defense modernization efforts,” as the legislation notes.
Consider the fact, for example, that the Pentagon only last year acquired for U.S. tanks active protection systems from Israel that had been operational there since 2011. Consequently, U.S. soldiers operated for years in tanks and armored vehicles around the world lacking the cutting-edge protection Washington could have provided against missiles and rockets. That put U.S. soldiers in unnecessary risk.
Given the breakneck speed of our military technology race with the Chinese Communist Party, it’s clear the continued emergence of decade-long delays in adopting crucial technology is no longer something we can afford.
Joint US-Israeli R&D
One of the reasons for these delays and failures to team up with Israeli partners at the beginning of the process is that U.S. and Israeli defense suppliers sometimes find it difficult to secure Washington’s approval for combined efforts to research and produce world-class weapons. Some requests to initiate combined U.S.-Israel R&D programs linger interminably in bureaucratic no-man’s land, failing to elicit a timely decision.
Confronted by deadly and immediate threats, Israel often has little choice but to push ahead alone with unilateral R&D programs. When that happens, the Pentagon misses out on Israel’s sense of urgency that could have led to the more expeditious fielding of weapons to U.S. troops. And Israel misses out on American innovation prowess as well as on the Pentagon’s economy of scale, which would lower unit costs and help both countries stretch their finite defense budgets further.
Once opportunities for early cooperative U.S.-Israel R&D are identified and approved, the working group would then facilitate the development of “combined United States-Israel plans to research, develop, procure, and field weapons systems and military capabilities as quickly and economically as possible.”
Secretary Esper appears to grasp the opportunity. “If there are ways to improve that, we should pursue it,” he testified on March 4, 2020, in response to a question on the U.S.-Israel working group proposal. “The more we can cooperate together as allies and partners to come up with common solutions, the better,” Esper said.
According to the legislation, the working group would serve as a standing forum for the United States and Israel to “systematically share intelligence-informed military capability requirements,” with a goal of identifying capabilities that both militaries need.
It would also provide a dedicated mechanism for U.S. and Israeli defense suppliers to “expeditiously gain government approval to conduct joint science, technology, research, development, test, evaluation, and production efforts.” The legislation’s congressional reporting requirement would hold the working group accountable for providing quick answers to U.S. and Israeli defense supplier requests.
Iron Dome in Iraq
Sen. John Boozman is pressing the Pentagon to upend its plans for Iron Dome and deploy one battery to the Middle East ― the latest sign of impatience on Capitol Hill with the Army’s fielding plans.
The Army is buying the Israeli-made system as a short-term fix while it develops its own program, the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, to counter cruise missiles, rockets and mortars. The Army has concluded that Iron Dome’s proprietary systems cannot be integrated with IBCS and that it will be treated as a stand-alone capability.
Army officials plan to field Iron Dome’s first two batteries in the U.S. at the end of the year, but it will take time to train troops on the systems before deployment. The batteries are produced through a partnership between Rafael and Raytheon, and they’re due to arrive this fall.
In the military technology race with the Chinese Communist Party, the stakes are high and the outcome is far from certain. A U.S.-Israel operations technology working group represents an essential step to ensure the United States and its democratic allies are better equipped than their adversaries.
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