Vicious Kim Regime Lives

by Daniel Blumenthal

There are three things to keep in mind about Kim Jong Il’s death.

First, he was a vicious and cruel man. He enriched himself and his cronies as the North Korean people suffered through famine, forced labor, and other cruelties. Kim ran a mafia-state that profited off of a variety of criminal enterprises. He took advantage of his democratic adversaries’ unwillingness to take him on, and made money by selling illegal narcotics, weapons, and counterfeit goods and dollars on the international black market. He made the world a more dangerous place through his ruthless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic weapons. He killed South Koreans in cold blood and kidnapped Japanese citizens. Meanwhile, we and our friends bailed him out time and again. Every time the regime was on the brink of collapse we offered Kim new packages of money and aid, with which he lined his pockets and paid for his nuclear ambitions. The worst offender in this regard was China, but for more than 17 years we played our part in enabling his continued rule.

Second, we should take no comfort in his succession, probably by his son. It was during Kim Jong Un’s apprenticeship that North Koreans sank the South Korean ship the Cheonan and shelled South Koreans on Yeonpyeong island. The younger Kim will need to show his toughness to the military and will likely engage in more atrocious acts in the years to come. Things will not get better either for North Koreans or for us as long as this regime is in place. Their survival now depends upon their nuclear program. We have taught them that as much as they provoke we are seemingly unable to be provoked — they can test a weapon, kill our allies, and disregard agreements without paying a price. Their nuclear-weapons program has given them what they want: insurance against American or allied pressure to change. The Kim family is invested in the current criminal, repressive state. And why not? They have become rich and stamped out any opposition. And they are a de facto nuclear state. They simply want official recognition of that status.

Third, given the regime’s internal logic — nuclear weapons are the state’s highest priority — there is no hope of persuading the Kim family to give up its programs, stop its illicit activity, or end its cruelty. We must avoid all temptations to “probe” the new leader’s intentions or “discover” whether he can be dealt with. We have tried and failed at “probing intentions” for a couple of decades. We are not in a period of uncertainty — we know what the Kim family wants. The only “uncertainty” is what it always was: When and how will the next dangerous act occur? Our policy should be regime change, gradual and patient if necessary, but unrelenting pressure until the Kim family collapses and members of the Party or the military are ready to negotiate radical reform and then unification under the rule of the Republic of Korea.

Cross-posted from National Review Online.

(flickr/user Viajar24h)

Tokyo Takes Security to a Higher Plane

by Michael Auslin

Tokyo is expected to announce Friday that it will buy America’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the clearest statement yet that Japan will not be left behind in Asia’s arms race. If reports ahead of the announcement are true, it also may help spur the creation of a bloc of liberal Asian states with the most advanced airpower capabilities that can serve to maintain stability in an increasingly strained Indo-Pacific region.”An F-35 purchase would help lay the groundwork for a cooperative airpower alliance of liberal states flying the same plane, training together and operating jointly.” –Michael Auslin

An F-35 purchase would help lay the groundwork for a cooperative airpower alliance of liberal states flying the same plane, training together and operating jointly. In addition to Japan, Australia has committed to buying up to 100 F-35s, and Canada another 65. Singapore is a Security Cooperative Participant in the F-35 program and South Korea is another likely customer. Some industry observers say India may sign up for F-35s later on. With only 186 U.S. F-22s available—currently the most advanced fighter in the world—the need for a large and credible force of F-35s flown by allies is all the more important.

Most Asian nations admit keeping stability in their region is far more difficult without Japan’s help. But for Tokyo to lead it will have to be prepared and committed. By some measures, Japan is still making up ground from its strategic withdrawal from many Asian security matters after former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi left office in 2006. A string of five failed premiers after him led to stagnation in defense reform and political silence on the country’s key security interests. That began to change a year ago with the release of a new national security strategy that identifies China as a destabilizing element and a potential security threat to Japan’s southwestern island territories.

The rest of this article is accessible to subscribers on the Wall Street Journal site.

(flickr/user create or die)

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper is reporting that the Japanese government is close to settling on the F-35 Lightning as the much-needed replacement for its F-15 fighter.  That’s exceptionally good news for a program that’s both key to preserving American military preeminence and at a lot of risk due to prospective deep defense budget cuts.  Indeed, Japan’s decision may actually complicate the Pentagon’s challenges in meeting the targets laid out by the Budget Control Act, Obama administration policy, and the uncertainties of the sequestration stemming from the failure of the congressional supercommittee to cut a deficit reduction deal.

The Japan deal has been a long time in the making. The Japanese air force has been shopping for a next generation “F-X” fighter to supplant the approximately 140 F-15s that have been Tokyo’s frontline air defense aircraft since the early 1980s. Japan was originally interested in the F-22 Raptor, and was willing to pay a premium price to get it – Japan also paid a premium to be able to build its own version of the F-15 – but the termination of America’s F-22 program in 2009 dashed that hope. The final F-22 is on the production line now.

Even though the F-35 program has been an international effort from its inception, including partners like the Netherlands, Norway, and Turkey, as well as larger allies like Britain, and with a sale to Israel in the works, the Obama administration did not make it easy for Japan to acquire the Lightning. Working out the details of a technology sharing agreement was not easy, and the administration was also hesitant to anger the Chinese.  And make no mistake, Japan’s desire to acquire a stealthy, so-called “fifth-generation” aircraft is driven by fear of China and a strong desire to deepen military ties with the United States as much as any need to replace the aging F-15s. This deal is what the U.S. policy of “building partner capacity” is all about: upgrading the capability to a frontline ally to defend itself and to operate more seamlessly with U.S. forces. Selling F-35s to Japan may not provoke the kind of furious response from Beijing as selling new F-16s to Taiwan would, but it is arguably more strategically and operationally important.

The sale of the F-35 to Japan comes at a critical time for the program, as well. The development of the plane has been plagued by the difficulties of settling on final designs and constant restructuring because of shifting Pentagon budgets. Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, the chairman and ranking members, respectively, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have made the F-35 the most recent target of their jihad against the defense industry and have rammed through a provision in this year’s defense authorization act – shortly to be on the floor of both houses of Congress – to force the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin into a fixed-price contract. Considering that the F-35 is still in flight test and that defense budgets are in free fall, such a contract is even more foolish than usual. And then there are the F-35 partner nations to consider, not just the current partners, Japan and Israel, but likely future F-35 nations like Australia and South Korea, both soon to make similar fighter buys.

Indeed, there is nothing more critical to reinvigorating U.S. military posture and coalitions in the Indo-Pacific than the F-35 and a few other critical systems (such as the P-8 maritime patrol plane, the C-17 airlifter, the new tanker, the Littoral Combat Ship) that could form the skeletal structure of a de facto future alliance. It’s no surprise that Singapore is seriously considering the F-35 – particularly the “B” model jump jet.  Japan’s initial buy is for about 40 F-35s, but there are likely to be subsequent procurements. Tokyo might also go for the “B” model, which would very much complicate China’s ability to target Japanese airfields with ballistic and cruise missiles. And, once India realizes its recent mistake in purchasing the “fourth-generation” eurofighter, it’s likely that there will be other opportunities.

Defense industrial and technology-transfer policy can and should be critical parts of American military strategy, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. During the Cold War and since, the Pentagon and especially the U.S. Navy and Air Force have designed and built systems for themselves and cared little about equipping allies and partners. Such as the problem of the F-22. Likewise, there were and are sales to be made in the Middle East, but with the rising threat of Iran, these, too, are more about strategy than profit.

The F-35 stakes could hardly be higher for the United States. Despite the Pentagon’s budget woes, it cannot walk away from the Lightning.  There is no substitute for American forces. High-end unmanned systems or a new bomber – indeed, any of the muted substitutes for F-35 – are years if not decades away from being fielded. Nor is there any substitute for America’s allies.  It’s not extreme to say that the commitment to the F-35 is as serious as any other test of American strategic leadership and will to preserve a measure of military technological advantage.

Or put it this way: Tearing apart the F-35 program – which may already be a result of the Budget Control Act and Obama policy – would be as corrosive a signal of weakness and decline as the withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan.

Cross-posted from The Weekly Standard.

(flickr/U.S. Air Force/Samuel King Jr.)

Japanese and American news outlets are reporting that Japan’s Ministry of Defense has decided to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the next generation replacement fighter for the Japan Air Self-Defense Forces. If true, it will further solidify Japan’s position as one of Asia’s most advanced military forces. Along with Aegis-equipped destroyers and excellent submarines, adoption of the stealth fighter will give Japan a leading edge, at least for a while, in the aerospace competition heating up in the Indo-Pacific region. The deal might be for only around 40 airplanes, worth around $6 billion, but it marks Tokyo’s determination not to be left behind as both China and Russia field possibly hundreds of advanced fourth-generation fighters and continue development separately on fifth-generation stealth fighters of their own.

With both Chinese and especially Russian planes probing Japan’s airspace in recent months, and with North Korean nuclear and missile programs continuing apace, Japan needs to be assured of protecting its interests and having the nascent capability of projecting power. The country is getting new tankers to allow for airborne refueling, and the F-35 is designed for ground attack roles. While there is still a way to go in Japan’s own thinking on future defense needs, the pieces are in place for a defense posture that will qualitatively equal or surpass any other country in the region. That Tokyo recognizes this in choosing the F-35 is the most important piece of information of all.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.

(flickr/U.S. Air Force/Samuel King, Jr)

Afghanistan: A race to the exits?

by Gary Schmitt and Richard Cleary

Over the past few days, a number of news reports have suggested that core American allies have either decided upon (Germany) or are considering (United Kingdom, Australia) troop drawdowns in Afghanistan. This news comes on the tail of reports that the Obama administration is considering an accelerated withdrawal of its own, even beyond the planned removal of all U.S. “surge” troops from Afghanistan by October 2012. And while the prospect of the hurried departure of some of our closest allies should perhaps not come as a surprise given the White House’s own decision to withdraw, it does raise serious questions about whether enough troops will remain to consolidate hard-won gains in the south and north of the country, and improve security in the restive east.

In last week’s Weekly Standard, Gary Schmitt and Jamie Fly observed that the Obama administration’s drawdown of surge forces, leaving only 68,000 American forces in Afghanistan by October of next year, “will be difficult to manage.” This challenge will be only greater if allies decide to follow America’s example. In particular, one of three options under deliberation by 10 Downing Street would remove 4,000 of the 9,000-strong British contingent from Helmand province over the course of 2013. With only 6,000 U.S. Marines expected to remain in Helmand after October of next year, the security situation would be highly tenuous, putting at risk the very gains “the surge” was designed to accomplish.  Instead of “clearing, holding and building,” there is a chance that, with a greatly reduced footprint, we’ll be struggling to hold and back to clearing new pockets of insurgent activity.

Obama’s decision to end the surge of forces in Afghanistan early in an obvious play to the anti-war base of the Democratic Party (see, e.g., the president’s reelection campaign website which specifically ignores the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan) is probably no surprise given where his poll numbers are.  However, this and rumored decisions about cutting back on the deployment of even more troops in 2013 have had and will have a multiplier effect on allied decisions on whether to sustain forces in theater as well.  In short, the race to the exits has begun, with the Taliban and the Pakistan military no doubt thinking “don’t let the door hit you on the behind on the way out!”

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.

(flickr/Bundeswehr-Fotos Wir.Dienen.Deutschland)

Iran Clocks Ticking

by Tom Donnelly

In his history of the long-running conflict between Iran and America, Kenneth Pollack writes of the “two clocks” that measure time as it relates to what he calls (in the title of his book) the Persian Puzzle. One, of course, is the countdown to a nuclear Iran. No one knows for certain how much time is on this clock​—​it’s difficult to get good intelligence about a program the Iranians are doing all they can to protect​—​but if the November report by the International Atomic Energy Agency is to be believed, there isn’t that much. Iran has sufficient material to build a handful of weapons, has plenty of delivery systems, and may not tip its hand by testing a device.

The rapid ticking of the Iran nuclear clock also marks an increasingly dark hour for the United States and its closest allies and partners, because it coincides with a third clock that Pollack did not imagine in 2004: the timetable of retreat set in motion by Barack Obama. The combination of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the accelerating withdrawal from Afghanistan, serial reductions of U.S. military power, and the administration’s “pivot” away from the greater Middle East to the “Indo-Pacific” portends a new era defined by a rising nuclear Iran and declining American influence in the region.

Pollack also speaks of a “regime change” clock, arguing that “a different government in Tehran​—​one more reflective of the will of the Iranian people​—​would be willing to discontinue or reorient the [nuclear] program to make it much less threatening.” But he also acknowledged “there is little likelihood that such a new government will take power soon.” Pollack wrote this in 2004, and the regime’s behavior since, particularly its thuggish suppression of opposition in the wake of the 2009 election, seems to have borne out his prophecy.

This means that the third clock, the one timing our regional retreat, is the one that measures the geopolitical competition with Iran. And because the United States has for so long focused on tactics rather than strategy​—​and for Iran, even nuclear weapons are a means rather than the end in itself​—​we’ve lost track of the time. The Obama White House has been especially wasteful, squandering years on a misguided policy of engagement with the Islamic Republic, and also putting Iraq back in play and preparing to abandon its own successes in Afghanistan. In place of serious “surges” of American power, the administration offers “silent war”​—​espionage, drones, computer viruses. The RQ-170 Sentinel remotely piloted aircraft that the Iranians are now so proudly displaying provides an apt image of how covert pinpricks are replacing threats of “shock and awe.”

That strategy has achieved successes. Defeat in Afghanistan brought on the collapse of the Soviet empire and ended any outside threat to the region. One counterinsurgency and two conventional campaigns later, Saddam is dead and so is his Baathist tyranny. Al Qaeda and its associates are being suppressed, and they control no state (unless the Arab Spring becomes the Salafi Spring). By contrast, the Iranian problem remains unresolved. Tehran has continued an on-again, off-again, low-level war with “The Great Satan” from the original hostage-taking to the latest attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. Our response has been a very mild form of containment, one that imposes few costs on the Islamic Republic.

This also marks a fundamental shift in U.S. grand strategy, one that has taken a favorable balance of power in the greater Middle East as key to a favorable international order. Thus, since 1979​—​the year of the Iranian revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein’s rise to power in Baghdad, and the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Sunni extremists​—​the United States has become ever more engaged in the struggle to prevent any sort of “hostile hegemon” from dominating the region.

In the after-midnight hour when the Obama retreat is complete, the United States would find itself with few options at the chiming of the nuclear clock. Containing and deterring a nuclear Iran would be a long, costly, and risky endeavor, and a task made immensely more difficult by the withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan and by the large cuts that will cripple the U.S. military. Time is short​—​but there is still time, and not simply to prepare for the extraordinary danger of a nuclear Iran, but to avert it.

Cross-posted from The Weekly Standard.

(wikipedia/Daniella Zalcman)

Kibbutz Sasa sits one mile from Israel’s Lebanese border. Founded in 1949, it is the site of the tomb of the second-century rabbi Levi ben Sisi. It hosts groves of fruit trees and a dairy farm and has 210 members. Kibbutz Sasa is also the home of the main factory of Plasan, a company that started out making hard plastic containers like garbage cans in 1985. For four years now, American soldiers have driven more safely in Iraq and Afghanistan, thanks to Kibbutz Sasa and Plasan’s CEO, Dani Ziv.

It was Ziv who, in the 1980s, urged the company to take up the manufacture of protective ballistic vests for soldiers and police. In 1989, Plasan won its first contract to make body armor for the Israel Defense Forces, and then for IDF vehicles. When war came to Afghanistan and then Iraq, orders went through the roof, especially from the United States. Plasan’s profits soared some 1,500 percent, from $23 million in 2003 to $330 million in 2007. Today they stand at over $500 million, with 90 percent of the company’s orders coming from Europe and the United States.

Plasan specializes in a very dense plastic composite product that affords ballistic protection without significantly adding to the weight of the vehicle. “Their work is exceptional,” says a senior Israeli defense industry executive about Plasan. “To convince the U.S. military that you are a reliable outfit is no mean feat. They did it all alone, without any help from a former ambassador or defense ministry director general.”

Plasan-armored mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) have been serving in Afghanistan since August 2009, and contractor Oshkosh Company has another 8,800 on order. In 2009 Plasan even opened a factory in Bennington, Vermont, to do the work for its American contract. But while the 350 or so workers there are American, the technology is decidedly Israeli.

That applies to an even smaller company in Netanya, Israel, called Camero. Its engineers have come up with a way to use ultra-wideband wireless transmissions to see through walls—literally—and detect armed men and explosives on the other side. The Xaver 400 is barely the size of a laptop computer, but it’s dramatically shifting the odds in urban fighting in favor of the technology user, whether he’s an IDF soldier or a United States Marine. Indeed, in December 2010, one of Camero’s top clients became the Department of Defense.

What’s happening at Plasan and Camero is part of a silent revolution sweeping the defense establishments of the United States and Israel. After decades of being the Pentagon’s dependent in terms of military technology, Israel’s defense industry is now gaining a competitive advantage over its overregulated, bloated and lethargic American rival. Indeed, the United States is becoming one of its best customers. Goliath is finding shelter under the shield of David.

This situation is fraught with irony. It’s not only that America is now fighting the kind of wars Israel has been fighting for decades—small-scale, low-intensity, against an elusive terrorist enemy—and needs the skills and equipment Israel has to offer, including remote-detection devices such as unmanned drones, an area in which Israel has been on average 10 years ahead of the curve. Nor is it simply the fact that as U.S.-Israeli relations have cooled during the Obama years, Israelis are realizing that a strong and independent high-tech defense sector may be more crucial to Israel’s future than relying on U.S. help.

The Israeli way of doing defense business is changing the shape of the military-industrial complex. Smaller, nimbler, and entrepreneurial, Israel’s defense industry offers a salutary contrast to the Pentagon’s way of doing things. With the spending and budget crisis in the United States already putting immense pressure on the Pentagon, with all-but-certain declines in the percentage of the U.S. economy that will be devoted to defense in the coming decade, a second “revolution in military affairs” is going to be necessary. We are going to have to get more for less—much less. Israel points the way.

A good example coming from the more expensive end of the military-technology spectrum involving high-tech missiles is Rafael Advanced Systems. They’re the Israeli makers of the Iron Dome missile defense system, built to protect Israeli towns from mortars, rockets, and 155-millimeter artillery shells. Each Iron Dome unit fires four to eight missiles and is equipped with a Battle Management computer system designed by another Israeli company, MPrest Systems. It’s an all-weather mobile system with a range of 70 kilometers (about 43.5 miles).

For the Pentagon, developing and deploying a major new system like this can take more than a decade. By contrast, the Israel Defense Ministry gave Rafael the contract for Iron Dome in 2007, and by March 2009 the system was fully ready for testing. The first true shoot-down test had to wait until July that year. More tests followed in 2010, and by March 2011 Iron Dome was declared operational and has been deployed in towns near the Gaza strip to protect against Hamas’s attacks.

To intercept bigger ballistic missile, Israeli Aerospace Industry (IAI) developed the Arrow antimissile system in cooperation with the United States as part of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. The agreement to build Arrow came in 1989. The first missile, the Arrow 1, got its first test launch in August 1990. Less than four years later came its first test interception.

Although Arrow began as an American-Israeli joint initiative, the irony is that Israel’s interest in developing Arrow sprang from the failure of American-made Patriot antimissile batteries to intercept Scud missile attacks during the First Gulf War. Arrow relies on a coterie of Israeli companies to provide the interception system’s components. Elta, a division of Israel’s biggest private arms firm, Elbit Systems, provides the Green Pine early-warning radar. Tadiran (another Elbit division) makes the Communication, Control, and Command center. IAI devised the Hazelnut launch controls. Altogether, they have constructed one of the world’s most sophisticated defense systems. In 1995 the Arrow 1 was replaced with an even faster, more lethal version, Arrow 2, which, according to its developer, Dov Raviv, has a 90 percent probability of knocking out a ballistic missile—and can tell a warhead from a decoy.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency considers itself fortunate when it gets any successful missile shoot-downs from its land-based system. The first successful test interception from the American version of Star Wars came in August 2005—more than 10 years after the Israelis had done the same thing. Now Israel is looking to sell Iron Dome in the United States. And Rafael’s American marketing partner? Raytheon, the same company that developed the Patriot.

For decades Israel has been seen as the United States’ junior partner in all matters military and strategic. American defense companies were the unquestioned leaders in developing sophisticated modern weaponry, while Israelis focused on more standard items such as small arms (the classic Uzi) or weapons built to suit their unique battle conditions (the Merkava tank). The Patriot missile deployment in the First Gulf War only reinforced the perception that Israelis needed American military technology, and American military aid, in order to survive. Now it may be Israeli technology, in the shape of Iron Dome and Arrow, that ends up defending American cities instead.

The changing situation has also affected the American attitude to technology transfers between the two allies. General Uzi Eilam, former head of the Israeli weapons research-and-development agency MAFAT, remembers that when F-15s and F-16s from the United States arrived in Israel, “they came with systems in locked boxes, which we were not allowed to open.” The rule was, the closer the Israelis were to attaining the same technical breakthrough, the more willing the United States would be to share the technology. Today the Pentagon is speeding up the cooperation process, if only to prevent Israeli advances from heading them off at the pass.

It is striking how the Israeli defense sector keeps steadily leapfrogging from one challenge to the next. This is especially true for the acid test of any strong defense industry: foreign sales. Ten years ago Israel ranked 15th. In 2007 it surpassed the United Kingdom to rank fourth, behind the United States, Russia, and France. The day when it takes France’s place is not far off.

This is a remarkable achievement for a country of some six million people that is treated as a virtual pariah by much of the world. But virtual is the mot juste—for even though Turkey virtually froze relations with Israel two years ago, it’s still among Elbit’s best customers.

Of course, it will be a long time before America’s defense establishment, with its huge government-supported research-and-development resources and armies of engineers, will be outmatched by Israel’s. It is also true that Israel’s military doesn’t use big-ticket items like aircraft carriers, stealth aircraft, and nuclear submarines that are the major money pits of Pentagon procurement; nor does it maintain the kind of global presence that requires them. Israel also spends much more of its GNP on defense (roughly 6.7 percent), and having a conscript army avoids the high personnel cost problems that are the fastest growing expense of our all-volunteer force. Nor can it be denied that much of Israel’s high-tech weapons success has come with America paying a large portion of the research-and-development bill, as with both Iron Dome and Arrow. Still, that money is looking less and less like a way to prop up a beleaguered ally, and more and more like a capital investment in future systems for ourselves.

How the Israeli defense industry, with a fraction of our capitalization and far fewer workers and engineers, has managed to move ahead at a time when our biggest defense contractors seem stalled offers some important lessons for a Pentagon beset by cost overruns and shrinking budgets. Indeed, learning from the Israeli way of doing things just might make the difference between a leaner, meaner U.S. military and hollowed-out collapse.

Israeli defense companies owe their success to a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Having to fight for survival has always tended to focus Israeli energies and concentrate efforts. Terrorist-launched missiles raining down on civilian neighborhoods remain merely a conjectural possibility in the United States, but not in Israel. There is little margin for error in making major decisions about what kinds of weapons to develop and invest in, and even less for needlessly dragging out the timeline for the development of weapons systems that may be vital to national existence.

Another advantage is that virtually everyone working for an Israeli defense firm has served in uniform. As Dan Senor and Saul Singer note in their book Start-Up Nation, thanks to military conscription, the Israeli Defense Forces—-“particularly elite units in the air force, infantry, intelligence, and information technology arenas”—have been the spawning ground for a myriad of Israeli technological companies. And the IDF experience has also led some of Israel’s best minds toward designing and developing military technologies.

Indeed, it’s difficult to find a defense engineer or executive who doesn’t have some battlefield experience to draw upon. “We know what it means to sit in a military vehicle,” a Plasan employee told a reporter in 2008, “what it’s like to hit an explosive device or take a burst of gunfire.” It’s not unusual for a defense company engineer called up for reserve service to find himself at the controls of a weapons system he himself designed.*

Other habits from the IDF experience rub off as well. One is its bias against hierarchy. In sharp contrast to the Pentagon, junior officers enjoy more responsibility and feel free to challenge their superiors. As Senor and Singer note, that makes for a chain of command flexible enough to adapt to unexpected changes and opportunities, whether it’s on the battlefield or in the boardroom.

Another is a bias toward improvisation. Virtually every piece of equipment purchased from the United States, from F-16 fighter planes to Blackhawk helicopters, goes through immediate changes by its personnel and crews to fit Israeli battle conditions. When this happens in the American military (as when American soldiers in Iraq began self-armoring their thin-skinned Humvees), the result is confusion and panic. But accepting the reality of on-field modification means Israeli designers don’t have to worry about a weapon system that anticipates every contingency. They know the users will take care of minor problems along the way, which speeds up both development and deployment time—and gives important feedback for future improvements. It also reduces learning curves and provides unexpected opportunities for making lemonade from lemons.

A good example is the Lavi in the 1980s. Israel’s Air Force was determined to get its own attack fighter after years of modifying American or French planes. Jointly funded by the U.S. and Israeli governments, produced by defense giant IAI and nicknamed the Lavi, the plane took four years and billions of dollars to develop—until the program was cancelled in 1987, in large part because the Pentagon became worried that it was funding a plane to rival its own top export fighter, the F-16.

The cancellation sent shockwaves through the Israeli Defense Ministry: Some still say the decision was a mistake. But “the project drove the whole industry towards the cutting edge of technology,” notes defense analyst Yiftah Shapir, no fan of the Lavi. “We still sell the sub-systems that were developed [specifically] for the Lavi,” especially in computer avionics (some of them are in the unmanned airborne vehicles, or UAVs, Israel makes for customers such as India, China, and Turkey). In addition, the 1,500 engineers working on the sophisticated Lavi systems soon found jobs in other Israeli defense companies, taking their experience and expertise with them.

In short, what would have seemed a failure and giant waste of money to a risk-averse Pentagon and its congressional overseers became the springboard for still bigger advances, including, in 1988, the launching of Israel’s first communications satellite in space.

The Lavi project and the space shot set the stage for the next major step for the Israeli defense industry, its radical reorganization in the 1990s. A combination of downsizing, deregulation, and privatizing forced the country’s major defense contractors to start thinking about new ways to make money, as well as weapons, and to see the high-tech frontier as an opportunity to get the jump on big international competitors, including the United States.

As the 1980s ended, the Israeli defense industry found itself bloated, overregulated, and too costly, like the rest of Israel’s economy. The end of the Cold War forced change. Foreign buyers had liked Israeli defense products because they had been battle-tested against the Soviet-built systems of Israel’s Arab antagonists. With the end of the Soviet threat, that marginal advantage vanished. Israeli companies saw American defense firms, flush from the success of Desert Storm, grabbing those contracts instead.

From 1985 to 1995 Israel’s defense spending fell by 37 percent. Declining global demand was matched by falling domestic demand, while a dysfunctional corporate culture made it hard for Israel’s major government-owned firms to adjust. If Israel’s ability to develop and produce its own weapons was to survive, a drastic change in how companies operated and what they made had to take place.

Major firms had to downsize their workforce and excess capacity; many smaller companies disappeared in a wave of consolidations. Elbit Systems emerged as a major contractor after absorbing smaller high-tech rivals like Elisra and Tadiran and old-line companies like Soltam Systems (founded in 1950), which made advanced artillery and mortars.

As part of a larger shift of Israel’s economy to a more deregulated model, there was also a wave of privatization of government-owned enterprises. Rafael Advanced Systems, which had been a research lab working at the behest of the Israeli Defense Ministry, spun off as a private company. Other government-owned companies like IAI were encouraged to spin off separate commercial projects from their defense units, even when the research and development had begun in those divisions. After some false starts, most of those spin-offs have done well; and as defense exports rose, the commercial exports of spin-offs rose even faster.

This was the other leg of the 1990s reorganization. It became clear that while Israel defense companies would continue to make Israel-specific weapons systems, there was a real future for the Israeli defense industry in the global marketplace, especially in the high-tech area that included retrofitting and upgrading older platforms built by the Cold War giants, Russia and the United States. Having a diversity of customers, beyond the IDF, would not only lower production costs and enhance economies of scale, it would also stimulate more technical innovation and more opportunities to sell Israeli products.

The result was a steady climb in Israeli exports, starting in 2000 and then breaking through in 2007, when Israeli arms sales abroad passed the $4 billion mark. Elbit, the maker of the Arrow, saw a 38 percent growth in revenue in that year alone. In 2009, Israel’s defense exports reached $6.9 billion; in 2010, $7.2 billion. With defense budgets declining worldwide in 2011, those numbers may be hard to surpass. But the Israeli way of doing defense business is here to stay.

Reorganization did not come cheap. In the end, Israeli taxpayers had to put up some $3 billion, the equivalent of one-third of the 2001 defense budget, to pay for the overhaul. The investment paid off. As Giora Eiland, one of Ariel Sharon’s national-security advisers, puts it, Israel found the right balance between, on the one hand, government support and oversight and, on the other, private creativity and incentive, including encouraging independent research and development. When the country needs big conventional platforms like planes and helicopters and submarines, it buys overseas and then modifies the purchases to fit IDF systems and battlefield profiles. When the IDF needs high-tech weaponry, Israelis develop it themselves with an eye toward commercializing it abroad.

That has caused some friction with Israel’s big brother. The United States views the advance of the Israeli David with some trepidation, especially when sales might mean transfers of sensitive technology. When Israel tried to sell four $250 million Phalcon early-warning systems to China, the Pentagon and Congress blocked the sale. When Israel agreed to upgrade the Harpy UAVs it had sold Beijing back in the 1990s, the United States retaliated by downgrading Israeli participation in the F-35 program.

On the other hand, American defense companies are increasingly seeing cooperation with Israel as the key to their own future. In addition to Iron Dome, Raytheon has signed on with Rafael Advanced System for development of another antimissile missile, the so-called Magic Wand or David’s Sling. A two-stage interceptor, the Magic Wand is designed to take out the long-range rocket and cruise missiles possessed by Hezbollah. To Raytheon, the Israeli technology is helpful for its own future systems; for Rafael, the deal with Raytheon is largely a way to get U.S. funding. The technology they have; it’s the money and customers they need.

One of those customers is the United States. Elbit makes 80 percent of the IDF’s UAVs and trails behind only the United States in the global marketplace for the craft we now all know as drones. Israel is not a player in the U.S. market—yet. “I don’t know why they don’t simply import UAVs,” says Elbit CEO Joseph Ackerman, including, of course, his own.

It seems a good question. And since the United States has emerged as Israel’s single biggest arms customer in the last decade, with systems like Iron Dome and David’s Sling on the way, surely drones won’t be far behind.

So does the future of American security have “Made in Israel” stamped on it? In one sense, it already does. At the Plasan plant in Kibbutz Sasa, the hallways are covered with poster-size copies of thank-you notes from American GIs. One of them is signed by Brian, an Army sergeant serving in Afghanistan who wrote that the Plasan armor saved him from a bullet that would have blown off his head if it had gone through the door.

“American soldiers come up to us at exhibitions, and tell me that they won’t get into any vehicle that’s not been armor-protected by Plasan,” a Plasan employee says. To date, there’s not been a single soldier killed by fire while in a vehicle that we armor-protected.”

The idea of Americans protected by Israel, however, may have broader applications than vehicle armor or antimissile defense, or even weapons systems in general. It could extend to the entire way Israeli military contractors give far more bang for the buck—and all with a Defense Ministry supervisory force of fewer than 300 people. Our Pentagon, by contrast, relies on some 30,000 bureaucrats to do the same oversight—the equivalent of two full Army divisions.

Of course, Israeli companies take advantage of their niche selection and their concentration on the high-tech sector, with its relatively expensive development curve but low production costs, and ability to skip the big-ticket platforms. But can anyone doubt that if Dani Ziv or another Israeli defense contractor were asked to build the next-generation aircraft carrier, it would cost far less than the $1.3 billion currently slated—and be delivered much more quickly? With the final cost of our coming fleet of F-35 fighters approaching $1 trillion, it seems a highly relevant question.

While the number of Pentagon bureaucrats continues to grow, the number of American students graduating with engineering degrees is steadily falling to less than 5 percent of the world’s total (China graduates more than half). Right now America’s leading defense contractors spend twice as much on lawyers than they do on research. There is a very real danger that in the next decade, if they are asked to arm America for the next major strategic challenge, as they did in the 1980s and again after 9/11, U.S. defense contractors will be unable to meet it. It’s time for the Pentagon and the American defense industry to develop a new way of doing business. They must look to Israel.

This article originally appeared in Commentary Magazine.

Streamlining that process is the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Talpiot unit, which targets very talented youths, some when they are in high school, for training in both high technology and military science, and on the necessary connections between them, before putting them into service with the IDF. Talpiot creates “a group unmatched anywhere in the world,” George Gilder writes in The Israel Test—with “its students designing [weapons] systems for 10 years before entering college” and with its former alumni serving as an unprecedented talent pool for Israel’s own defense companies.
(flickr/Israeli Defense Forces)

* Streamlining that process is the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Talpiot unit, which targets very talented youths, some when they are in high school, for training in both high technology and military science, and on the necessary connections between them, before putting them into service with the IDF. Talpiot creates “a group unmatched anywhere in the world,” George Gilder writes in The Israel Test—with “its students designing [weapons] systems for 10 years before entering college” and with its former alumni serving as an unprecedented talent pool for Israel’s own defense companies.

See below excerpts from CDS Contributor Ahmad Majidyar’s interview with Voice of America on the recent Bonn Conference regarding the transition in Afghanistan.

Ahmad Majidyar: “Pakistan is a great player in any end game in Afghanistan and so definitely the participation of Pakistan was necessary and could have been productive given that Pakistan has a lot of influence with the Taliban and could have played a key role in bringing the Taliban and the insurgents to the table. Pakistan usually mentions that it wants to be part of the solution in Afghanistan, not part of the problem.

But unfortunately by boycotting the Bonn conference, Pakistan once again proved it does not want to be part of the solution and share partners with Afghanistan, and also the international community, to bring security and stability to the worn torn country. I also think that this is also a loss for the Pakistanis as well because they want to have a big share in any end game in Afghanistan, but by boycotting the conference, Pakistan marginalized itself as well.”

Iftikhar Hussain (VOA): Given that the Taliban is big factor for Afghan efforts at reconciliation, did this conference make some progress on the process of talking to the Taliban or did it fall short of the key factor for the future of Afghanistan?

Ahmad Majidyar: “I don’t think that this conference made any progress or had any achievements when it comes to reconciliation with the Taliban. We have seen that the Afghan government has engaged the Taliban over the past six, seven years, but it has produced no results. The Taliban is defiant, they
have increased their violence and given the fact that right now the Taliban thinks that the international community will leave Afghanistan in some three years and the government of President Karzai will not sustain itself, it will be difficult to expect that the Taliban will join any peace process now.

I think that parts of the Taliban will be willing to join the Afghan government only if they think that the world community will not abandon Afghanistan and the present system and the political structure will remain in place. Most of the conflicts around the world have ended with a political solution, rather than a military solution. But unfornately, the Taliban have shown no willingness to come to the negotiatiing table, so to have any high expections of any political settlement with the Taliban in any future is just fantasy and I don’t think that will happen.”

Another international conference on the future of Afghanistan is set to take place next year in Tokyo, Japan.

To listen to the interview in full, click here.

(flickr/Canada in Afghanistan)

Mackenzie Eaglen and Diem Nguyen from The Heritage Foundation have produced an impressive backgrounder reviewing the defense budget cuts attendant to the Super Committee’s failure and examining their effects. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

Unfortunately, many in Congress incorrectly view the deep cuts to defense as part of sequestration as a problem that is a long way off and can be dealt with later because the cuts do not take legal effect for over one year. As a practical matter, however, some consequential sequestration cuts will be felt nearly immediately. Also, the looming threat of sequestration virtually guarantees Congress will instead seek to fund defense through a long-term continuing resolution in fiscal year 2013, which creates another host of serious problems borne uniquely by those in uniform. The defense spending sequestration of January 2013 has adverse effects now on the nation’s defense capabilities. The fact that the “trigger” may never technically be pulled will not save defense from absorbing tremendous consequences as a result of the chaos of uncertainty in plans and funding levels for another year and one-half.

Any program that cannot demonstrate some sort of “payoff” within the five-year defense budget plan is at risk for cancellation or truncation. An example of a research program at risk is directed energy. Other programs at risk for cuts include expansion of the AC-130 fleet, the MV-22 Osprey, amphibious ships and aircraft, LCS, Joint High Speed Vessel, and what’s left of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS).

Click here for the full analysis.

(Flickr user csi_ice/U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)