Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is one of the most diverse aerospace companies, working in civil and military aerostructures and modification work as well as the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), missiles, satellites and electronic systems. It has also been a major exporter and partner in international programs and is consequently exposed to market pressures from around the world. New CEO/President Joseph Weiss talked to Defense Technology Edition Chief Editor Bill Sweetman at the LAAD defense and security show in Rio de Janeiro earlier this month.

Defense Technology: How is IAI affected by defense cutbacks, and how are you responding?

Weiss: We face the same environment as other companies, with defense budget cuts not only in Israel but in other countries. IAI, although you call it a defense company, stands on very big commercial legs. We have vast activity in aerostructures for commercial programs, components for F-15s and F-16s (part of the same group) and converting passenger aircraft for cargo use or as tankers. The global financial crisis affected the commercial business, so that gives us double the challenge.

In order to keep the pace of growth, we need to be more creative in the solutions that we produce. The best example was in mid-March, when we won the contract for Brazil's new tankers. We were competing against Airbus and Boeing, and at the end of the day, we won. At the show, we had a top Brazilian air force official visiting the stand, and he said “thank you for the creative solution you gave us.”

What do you mean by creative solutions?

We don't talk much about components. We talk about systems, and can go to the level of systems of systems. We don't look at a radio or missile, as such. We see the environment where the operator is working and try to give the best option. Often there is no need for the best radar or best components to be the most attractive solutions, although some customers go to a lower level and some higher. “In-house” is the key word. IAI is one of the few companies that have in-house capabilities to meet almost all requirements, whether you're talking about a component or a system of systems, from a simple electro-optical payload to communications and satcoms. You can't do anything without involving satellites. We cover elint, comint and sigint (electronic, communications and signals intelligence) all the way to network and cyberoperations, and missiles at the tactical and higher levels. For example, we can embed some para-military technologies in a tanker, so if tomorrow the customer wants to equip it with sensors, communications or defense equipment, he can.

How do you see the overlap between security and defense?

If I look back, I do not see that IAI has ever put “security” in the things it does. It is the other way around: It is defense capability, deployed at a low level. Homeland security is not advanced technology, but there is a movement of defense technology into security applications. SisGAAz [Brazil's planned program for surveillance of its coastal waters] is a huge homeland security project, and IAI can supply almost all components. It is a matter of tailoring the best solution for the need. I do not think we can compete as the prime [for SisGAAz] under Brazilian law. We'll engage with local companies to ensure that we will be in a leading position, and try to be a partner, stakeholder and supplier. I hope to be a player, and not a small one, in this game.

How important is participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program?

This is one of the major programs IAI will be involved with in coming years. IAI is a subcontractor for some components such as the outer wings. We have an initial understanding for at least 800 units. We are a subcontractor on the F-16 and F-15, and see the same concept for the F-35. We are investing considerable money in the infrastructure for this work, so we are a risk-sharing partner for Lockheed Martin.

How will UAVs evolve, particularly in defensive airspace?

It is not my view that JSF will be the last manned aircraft, but the tendency to use UAVs in every air force is getting stronger. IAI is investing in everything needed to verify that the company will be there in coming years. We are in a good position, and IAI will be in the UAV business for decades.

Is there any work on an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) like X-47B or Neuron?

Our thinking goes in two directions, and no decision has been taken. A UCAV is a bigger investment, and part of our thinking [centers on] if and when it happens. But there is no question that more conventional UAVs will be there, in parallel, so we are improving their sensors and combat suites. UAVs are part of a package to answer user needs. As for defended airspace, there are many ways to negate defenses. One mission of future UAVs will be to go into defended environments, and we have to come to the customer with the proper solution. The approaches of IAI in UAVs will fill all the needs of the future combat area.

JOSEPH WEISS

President and CEO, Israel Aerospace Industries

Education: B.S. in mechanical engineering (1973) from the Technion and MBA (1990) from Tel Aviv University

Background: Named president and CEO of IAI in July 2012 after six years as head of the Systems, Missiles and Space group. Before that he led the division responsible for optical and radar reconnaissance satellites and communications satellites. Weiss joined IAI in 1998 after 27 years with the Israeli navy; his last assignment included management of the Dolphin submarine program.