If you don’t think war is Big Business, just ask multibillion-dollar companies like Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman, whose war machines end up in battlefields all over the world. In fact, just today the Pentagon cleared Lockheed to sell 5,000 Hellfire missiles to the embattled Iraqi government for a cool $700 million.
The current conflict in Gaza is no exception to the international weapons business, either. The Israeli army deploying swarms of drones and mounted weapons (to say nothing of ground troops) into the Gaza Strip, and you can bet those systems are the envy of foreign governments looking to buy their own.
Which brings us to Elbit Systems, Israel’s leading defence contractor and a company that has several weapons systems currently being used by the IDF as it fights Hamas.
Speculation the conflict will fuel both added weapons purchases by the IDF and the success of the Israeli military technology, is likely fuelling Elbit’s surging stock value.
And who can blame financial prospectors when Elbit systems are not only being showcased in Gaza, but are flying off armoury shelves and into the battalions of armies the world over?
The Israeli company is perhaps best known for the Hermes 900 drone, billed as an unmanned plane with “sharp senses, lethal bite,” which it sold to Brazil for surveillance and security missions during the World Cup, and just secured a multimillion dollar contract to upgrade the Swiss unmanned aerial vehicles fleet.
The skies over Gaza are no stranger to the Hermes 900 and 450, two drones the IDF has reportedly deployed for bombing campaigns in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon for a few years now.
On their official website, Elbit describes the older 450 model as, “a multi-role high performance tactical UAS and the primary platform of the IDF in counter-terror operations (…) is a mature and combat proven UAS with over 300,000 operational flight hours and a class leading safety and reliability record.”
The 450 also happens to be the same kind of drone an activist group accused the IDF of using for several bombings that killed Palestinians in Gaza in the past.
Elbit also produces smaller scale surveillance drones, like their Skylark model. And as Mashable reports, that model was recently shot down over Gaza with Hamas claiming it had picked the smaller UAV out of the sky. Reportedly the IDF denies the claim and says it crashed due to a “technical issue.”
Like Elbit's drones, the company's land weapons systems have the added benefit of battle hardened experimentation. Specifically, the UT30 unmanned turrets currently installed on some NATO member nation armoured personnel transport vehicles. In a company statement about the unmanned turret, Elbit never singles out the IDF as users of the UT30, but says "numerous armed forces around the world" use it.
Designed with 25 or 30mm cannons and coaxial machine guns, the UT30 has an “advanced fire control system” with automatic target tracking, so soldiers can control the weapon from the safety of the vehicle cockpit. Elbit promises a “high first-round hit probability” on this “combat proven” weapons system.
The unmanned turrets have also received interest from foreign buyers. Elbit just announced a $20 million landmark deal with the Philippines Armed Forces, to supply them with “upgraded armoured personnel carriers,” which includes “25 mm unmanned turrets, 12.7 mm remote controlled weapon stations (RCWS) and fire control systems (FCS) for 90 mm turrets.”
In 2011, Elbit was awarded a contract to support the IDF with the similar mounted weapons systems, which they also supplied to several European armies.
Like anything else to do with weapons buying, the Americans are also in on Elbit products. They’ve recently procured a number of systems upgrades for their Marine Corps attack helicopters, worth a combined $14.1 million in business for Elbit System’s American subsidiary.
It’s worth noting that Elbit touts itself as the, "major avionics supplier and systems integrator for Israeli Air Force (IAF) helicopters.” And at the moment, those same Israeli helicopters can be seen swarming over Palestinian skies.
Other buyers include an unnamed Latin American nation that struck a $133 million deal with Elbit for homeland security systems with sophisticated control centre and intelligence capabilities.
When I asked Elbit if their weapons systems are being field-tested in Gaza by the IDF, spokesperson Dalia Rosen said in an emailed statement that, "As a publicly traded company, I am sure you can appreciate that the specific information we are able to provide is limited to what is provided in our website."
In fairness to the Israelis and Elbit, the IDF is a fighting army with consistent engagements and ongoing research and development supporting that war machine.
As a result, operational frequency equals expertise in weapons making. It’s the same reason the US is a leading military force: It’s always waging war and knows what modern, "networked" battlefields require.
Right now, when foreign governments turn on the TV they see the successes of the Israeli Iron Dome, the drone strikes on Gaza, and the land forces taking down Hamas. There's no denying the lethality of Israeli weapons, even if the newsreels are heartbreaking, and that's free PR for companies like Elbit peddling their military hardware.
But, in the end, by selling weapons and profiting off of intelligence gleaned from contentious war zones, you not only destabilize regions and weaponize governments all over the world; it's just not a good look. And if Elbit is indeed using the Israeli wars in Gaza as a live field testing arena for their weapons, you have to wonder what new lethal toys will come out of the latest conflict.