“We see Greece as an important market for Elbit and we certainly intend to deepen and expand our operations in Greece in the forthcoming years,” says Ran Kril, executive vice president of the Israeli defense industry Elbit Systems.
Speaking to Kathimerini, Krill expresses the belief that the Greek government’s decision to choose the Israeli Defense Ministry as its partner for a new Hellenic Air Force training center in the southern Peloponnese city of Kalamata will further strengthen and expand ties between the two countries’ air forces and will “contribute to the mutual transfer of knowledge.”
He adds that the Greek government “seems to lead a wide effort to strengthen the defense capabilities through the introduction of world-class high-tech systems,” explaining that “in countries with quality education systems, human talent and the ethos of entrepreneurship, like in Greece, long-term technological projects and deep ties with international companies definitely encourage the growth and development of a technology-oriented environment.”
There is a narrative according to which Israel’s whole startup ecosystem sprang up from its defense industry. Can this happen in Greece? And if so, what can we do to facilitate it?
In many countries, the defense industry is a powerful generator of technological innovation in a wide range of fields, as is the case in Israel, where defense technology companies have been at the forefront of the thriving high-tech industry for decades. The demand from defense companies is to develop, in a relatively short time, systemic and multi-disciplinary technological solutions to varying challenges, thus generating a high rate of development and innovation that creates a ‘ripple effect’ across the entire technology industry. Throughout our years of operation, we have witnessed the transformation of technologies developed at Elbit in response to security challenges, into innovative developments in the fields of aviation, medicine, communication and so on. In recent years, the global trend known as “Open Innovation” has also strengthened in Israel, in which high-tech defense companies such as Elbit embrace technological entrepreneurship that comes from civilian fields in favor of developing groundbreaking solutions in the defense field. The Greek government seems to lead a wide effort to strengthen the defense capabilities through the introduction of world-class high-tech systems. Our experience shows that in countries with quality education systems, human talent and the ethos of entrepreneurship, like in Greece, long-term technological projects and deep ties with international companies definitely encourage the growth and development of a technology-oriented environment.
Are you planning other investments in Greece?
There is a special connection between Israel and Greece. We see Greece as an important market for Elbit and we certainly intend to deepen and expand our operations in Greece in the forthcoming years. There is a high adequacy between Elbit’s technological capabilities and experience and the defense needs of Greece. We also see a high correlation between the open way in which Elbit conducts its business in the international arena, which includes the transfer of knowledge and work in extensive collaboration with local factors, and the Greek openness.
Israeli discipline and planning as well as operational efficiency are constantly, and globally, praised. Do you think foreign threats contributed to this and can Greece learn a lesson or two from Israel in this respect?
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have extensive experience in tackling a wide range of security challenges. Israel’s security needs are constantly pushing forward the development of the defense technology in Israel. It is likely that the connections that exist and those that are being developed between the defense arms of Israel and Greece contribute to the mutual transfer of knowledge. I believe that the decision of the Hellenic Government to select the Israeli Ministry of Defense as a partner for the establishment and operation of the training center of the Hellenic Air Force will further strengthen and deepen the ties between the air forces and allow the transfer of knowledge to benefit both parties.
Will Elbit be helping Greece accumulate know-how in defense?
The selection of Elbit to lead the establishment and operation of the new training center was based on Elbit’s experience in establishing and operating similar training centers for the Israeli Air Force and other air forces, and on Elbit’s international leadership in developing and supplying simulation systems for training pilots, sea crews and land forces. Leading militaries such as the US and Britain recognize the uniqueness of Elbit’s simulation and training technologies, selecting Elbit to provide avionics systems for the new US Air Force T-7 training aircraft and to provide the simulation systems for both the UK’s artillery forces and submarine crews. We will be happy to contribute as much as we can in order to improve the various capabilities in Greece. There are of course other directions in which Elbit as an international high-tech company can cooperate with the Greek industry.
There are several scenarios on modernizing and probably converting some of the T-6 trainers, to a squadron that will be used for operational Hellenic Air Force purposes. To what use?
The commercial discussions on this project between the Israeli and Hellenic Ministry of Defense have not yet been completed and therefore I cannot comment at this stage on the details related to the matter.
The plan is for Kalamata to become a training center with regional clients. Have any countries already expressed interest? Could this be a training hub for the Middle East and North Africa?
I can say with confidence that the new training center will be first class in global terms, it will include one of the best training aircraft available – Leonardo’s 346, which will be equipped with the best training avionics available – and the new training center will operate some of the best training and simulation systems in the world. The project’s built-in cooperation with the Israeli Air Force will make it possible to assimilate valuable knowledge and experience accumulated in the Israeli Air Force Flight School. I have no doubt that Greece will be able to integrate more partners in this program and the excellent ties that Greece has with quite a few countries in the region, can soon lead to an increase in activity in this center.
Among other things, Elbit will provide the project modern flight simulators. How many hours have been reserved on a yearly basis for the training of Hellenic Airforce pilots? Will there be other investments in infrastructure?
As early as 2016, the Israeli Air Force published in its journal that in one year more than 30,000 training missions were performed in simulators and that the goal of the Israeli Air Force was that within four years 30% of the corps’ training missions would be performed in simulators. Economic efficiency, though, is only one part of the story. Improving the readiness made possible by the use of advanced simulation systems is the heart of the matter. Air forces are constantly striving to improve the readiness of pilots. The quality of technology makes it possible to conduct flight training on the ground, in intricate contours, in enemy territory and simulate, at the highest level of affinity, threats and extreme situations that are almost impossible to reach in real flight. The motto of Elbit’s training field is “train as you fight.” The systems we provide enable just that. The simulation technologies that will be integrated into the new training center will not take place only on the ground. Each 346 aircraft that will operate in the training center will include training systems embedded in the cockpit. These systems make it possible to exhaust much more from any training flight by creating and injecting situations and threats for pilots in a tangible and realistic way that require them to respond and cope while flying. Just like in combat. The Hellenic Air Force will determine the combination between aircraft training hours and the use of ground simulators.
Stimulating the economy
Many argue that economic development can be greatly enhanced by expenditures in R&D and defense manufacturing. Do you share this view and can you quantify it?
I definitely share this view. Investments in research and development tend to encourage technological entrepreneurship, industrial collaborations and attract international high-tech players. We are also witnessing countries that view defense production as an effective leverage for stimulating the economy, especially given the economic impact of Covid-19. We are recently seeing countries that have increased their defense expenditure for that purpose.
How do you think defense will evolve in the future? Will wars be fought by machines and artificial intelligences, as some claim and technological progress suggests?
There are a number of key trends that will likely shape the defense area in the next decade. An increased interest in combining autonomous capabilities alongside manned capabilities is certainly one of them. We see a growing demand for the integration of unmanned vessels to ensure the sovereignty of economic waters and to deal with threats in the underwater arena. A similar thing is happening in the ground arena with the integration of robotic systems to perform a variety of tasks – from intelligence gathering, through evacuation of wounded and transfer of supplies to attack, and of course in aerial arena with the maturation of technologies that enable to perform missions with combined forces of unmanned and manned aircraft. It improves task efficiency, economic efficiency and it preserves human life. Another trend is the expansion of activity in the electromagnetic spectrum. Various confrontations from recent years have shed light on the importance of the ability of military forces to operate in the electromagnetic spectrum whether for the purpose of gathering intelligence or for the purpose of thwarting hostile operations. We see that countries are investing considerable efforts in improving their capabilities in this area in all dimensions of combat – air, land and sea. The ability of military forces to turn electronic signals into intelligence, and the capacity to use electronic tools to disrupt and thwart enemy threats and actions, are proven time and time again to distinguish between success and failure. Another clear trend is the transformation of combat efforts into multidimensional and networked. Militaries and security forces are adopting at an accelerated pace capabilities that enable them to deploy various forces in a coordinated and synchronized manner in a way that greatly improves effectiveness and survivability. This of course requires the implementation of digital communication and network systems as well as Command & Control technologies that are capable of operating in various domains of operations. Artificial intelligence is certainly an important technological generator present in each of these trends. We see artificial intelligence as being integrated into almost everything we do – from sensor systems and autonomous systems to communication, command & control, to avionics. Significant development is also taking place in the field of aviation. Military aircraft are becoming more sophisticated, with the systems currently available to pilots allowing them to carry out missions that could not be performed in the past. Flight computers, vision in adverse conditions, communications and navigation – all of these bring the aircraft to the next generation of capabilities. The challenge at the moment is to train future pilots to use these advanced capabilities in preparation for their integration into operational arrays.