Israeli company positions for greater local presence
Elbit Systems of Australia, the local subsidiary of Israel’s largest defence company, is aiming to transform itself to create a fully sovereign Australian business with access to advanced Israeli technology. And some of that technology now being rolled out to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is years ahead of anyone else, even the US military.
Elbit Systems Australia (ELSA) managing director Paul McLachlan is leading the transformation of the company, best known for its decade-long $1.2 billion partnership with the Australian Army to introduce a digital Battlefield Management System (BMS). For that and other projects, the company has an Australian workforce of 240, including almost 100 system and software engineers.
“It is becoming increasingly important and the government has made it very clear, if you want to have a long and sustainable future in the defence industry in Australia, you need to be approaching an Australian sovereign capability,” McLachlan told ADBR.
“The company is absolutely determined to do everything necessary to become a truly Australian subsidiary of Elbit Systems, able to give the Australian Defence Force and emergency management agencies access to really high-edge Israeli technology with an Australian delivery methodology and the Australian security protocols absolutely sorted.”
To that end Elbit Systems Australia has transitioned to a majority Australian board under new chair Karen Stanton, principal of HTA Group and a board member of the Centre for Defence Industry Capability (CDIC).
McLachlan is a retired Australian Army Major General. He served in Iraq, commanded the 7th Brigade, led the Land Systems Division in the DMO, and commanded the Deployable Joint Force Headquarters. He says ELSA aims to reinvent itself based on the model of Elbit Systems USA, with the ability to take IP from the Israeli innovation system and develop it as an Australian capability which doesn’t flow back to the parent company.
“The principal reason for the transformation is for us to become an Australian sovereign capability with access to really desirable Israeli technology and software but able to deliver it in Australia approved by Australians,” he said.
From 2005, Army started to examine how it could move from paper maps and documents and the legacy Australian Tactical Automated Command and Control System (AUSTACCS), to a digitised command and control system. Described in the 2009 Defence White Paper as a critical enabler for land operations, it was to be delivered under Project LAND 200 in two streams – tactical communications, and the BMS itself, enabling commanders to monitor, direct and review operations by way of electronic displays of maps and combat data.
For ELSA, the challenge was to adapt Israeli technology to Australian requirements. That wasn’t easy, but the system is now operational at brigade, joint taskforce, and battlegroup level, and is being rolled out to training institutions – Royal Military College, Combined Arms Training Centre, and the Land Warfare Centre. That means the coming generation of Army officers will have a good grasp of this technology and its potential.
“I’m a digital immigrant and they are digital natives,” McLachlan said. “They are starting to expect this sort of capability. They want these sort of capabilities to be available to them and they know it will make them better and faster.”
BMS creates a common operating picture for commanders and their staff. McLachlan said this would have been worth it just for the saving of 15 per cent of staff time spent copying information from the commander’s paper map to their own.
“We transformed the product from a rebadged Israeli battle management system into a purpose-designed Australian developed piece of software which is world leading and which has recently been successful in a competition in the UK,” he said. “The level of capability in the software is significant and it is recognised across the world as best practice.”
But it can go so much further. McLachlan said that, through integrating sensors and effectors – tanks, IFVs, UAS – it moves from a simple common awareness tool to true combat system.
“A commander gets the necessary information from the necessary sources and has the effectors at their fingertips in order to make really good decisions and effect the battlespace, fundamentally quicker than the opponent,” he said. “That is in service in Israel and it takes the effectiveness of individual platforms to a completely new level.”
For a tank commander or even the individual soldier, this would deliver full relevant tactical information including presence of friendly and enemy forces, updated in real time.
This is in Army’s future. New IFVs and combat reconnaissance vehicles come with the digital backbone to facilitate this transition. Abrams tanks will be digitised under the planned LAND 907 Phase 2 upgrade.