Israeli army chief wants to set up new innovation division

Aviv Kochavi Photo: Erez Haroudi

The new division will tailor future weapons systems to the IDF's operational and intelligence needs.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi is promoting a plan to establish a new IDF division for innovation and development of technological systems for branches of the army according to their future operational needs, sources inform "Globes."

The plan is still being formed, and a number of discussions have been held on the matter with professional parties. A source involved in the plan said that the planned division would lead plans for developing future weapons systems in accordance with the IDF's dynamic operational and intelligence needs in order to meet the threats and challenges likely to face the IDF in the coming years.

Founding the division will change the existing situation in R&D of security technologies, currently spread around special technology units in branches of the army and the IDF R&D unit, which is subordinate to the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure in the Ministry of Defense.

Many other R&D activities are conducted by the defense industries, which frequently directly coordinate their actions with the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure and conduct joint development programs with it, as in the case of the development of the Iron Dome system and the system for detecting tunnels and underground spaces, which led to the uncovering of dozens of terrorist tunnels from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon leading into Israel.

Sources inform "Globes" that the new division will deal with aspects relating to innovation, connectivity, and development of future technologies under a single roof and from a perspective transcending all of the IDF's branches.

A defense source said, "It is still unclear how authority will be divided between the planned division and the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure. It cannot be ruled out that the measure will cause serious friction between the parties on the matter."

The source continued, "The chief of staff ordered background work done on the subject. After examining the models used by other armies around the world in this matter, he found that there was a need for an agency that would manage all matters in the army pertaining to innovation. It is hard to argue with this plan, because there is a need for such a division, but there may be quite a few pitfalls on the way to implementing it."

Although a significant proportion of the IDF's plans in recent years have involved aspects relating to innovation and advanced technologies, it is clear that in practice, they are encountering obstacles, bureaucracy, and lack of creativity.

Last December, the "Haaretz" daily reported an internal IDF study showing that senior officers give thinking, creativity, and innovation in army units a mediocre or low mark. The officers who participated in the study attributed the low marks that they assigned to a conservative and bureaucratic organizational culture, fear of errors, and the price that they would have to pay if they were found responsible for unsuccessful ventures, as well as lack of patience and difficulties in containing such situations.

The study was conducted among dozens of officers in various IDF units, led by the air force unit for cooperation.

According to what "Haaretz" reported, the officers interviewed in the study cited their desire to avoid conflicts and wish to achieve a consensus as part of the reason for the low mark that they gave to innovation in the army. They also complained about the character of the internal discussions taking place in the various units, which they said did not allow for brainstorming, showed lack of awareness among commanders of gaps in innovative matters. They complained that in most cases, medium-level commanders did not encourage creative and enterprising thinking.

A number of reports published by the State Comptroller in recent years also pointed to difficulties in the army in this area, while citing a lack of coordination and cooperation between IDF units and the Ministry of Defense on research and development programs.

Last October, State Comptroller Judge (ret.) Joseph Shapira published a report whose findings included faults in reciprocal relations between the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure and IDF units.

The State Comptroller found that these connections were not formalized, were unsystematic, and were not sufficiently organized. He commented that the IDF did not do enough to inform the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure about the IDF's future needs, and about defects discovered in the preservation of information stored by the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure in the framework of regular research and development. The State Comptroller recommended that the IDF and the Ministry of Defense devise an overall development plan, while settling budget issues, thereby improving the IDF's ability to have a significant impact on projects led by the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure.

The State Comptroller also cited a series of failures in two technological projects led by the IDF computer section. He did not specify the projects, but noted that they involved important initiatives aimed at facilitating a flow of computer information between different IDF bodies.

The development of these two ventures took many years, costing hundreds of millions of shekels paid for by the defense budget, plus tens of millions of dollars from US military aid.

The same report severely criticized the IDF computer section and planning section for their regular handling of the initiatives, as well as the supervision and control of them. The State Comptroller assigned overall responsibility for this matter to the computer section, saying that it had "failed in its duty." He also found that the faults discovered in these enterprises were severe and substantial, resulting in operational gaps reflected in the summer of 2014 in Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.

The IDF spokesperson told "Globes" in response, "It is natural for the first months of a new chief to staff to arouse great interest, leading to hypotheses based on incomplete processes.

"As always, when decisions are made on any matter, we will comment on them and publish them. In this case, no final decision has yet been taken."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 18, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

Aviv Kochavi Photo: Erez Haroudi
Aviv Kochavi Photo: Erez Haroudi
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