The current deployment of the various vessels of the Israeli Navy is more widespread and deeper than ever before. These vessels operate above the surface and underwater to secure the shipping routes and freedom of navigation of the State of Israel, patrol its territorial waters, police the waters of the Gaza Strip, secure the offshore gas fields and drilling rigs, train for war, provide protection against terrorist attacks, execute deep penetration operations at ranges, depths and objectives that must remain untold. Some of today's vessels carry the C-Dome system – the naval version of the Iron Dome missile defense system, as well as small Doher Galim UAVs, the naval version of the Skylark UAV operated by the IDF Artillery Corps.
"Look at the map – the strategic depth of the State of Israel is currently at sea, and at sea you must 'show the flag' using your vessels. There are the commercial shipping routes, our territorial waters, and our Exclusive Economic Zone, extending 200 miles from the sea boundary. Each offshore rig is, in fact, a vessel that must be protected and secured," says Hannan Marom, VP Marketing & Development at DSIT, an Israeli manufacturer of sonar and underwater security systems.
"Today's threat is the disappearing enemy, not just on land but at sea as well," says Ilan Lavi, Marketing Director for Latin America at Israel Shipyards and a former colonel in the Israeli Navy. "Even at sea, we are engaged in an asymmetrical war. States that sponsor terrorism operate a large number of small vessels, and we must adapt to that. A small boat may attempt to stage a suicide attack against a larger vessel. There are fewer naval battles involving missiles and a more acute need for vessels that would enable us to reach our target faster, engage it using rapid, accurate, and lethal fire and destroy the enemy," stresses Lavi.
A New Network of Threats
"We have identified new threats at sea. The terrorist organizations acquire new weapon systems, like shore-to-sea missiles that endanger naval vessels engaged in inshore routine security operations, as well as missiles launched from the shore. Electronic systems must be developed to detect the threat before it has been launched at you. The entire theory, in a nutshell, is this: load the maximum number of systems onto a small naval vessel," explains David Hayout, CEO of IAI's RAMTA Division and a former Navy officer as well.
Elbit's autonomous "Seagull". The world is heading towards the unmanned vessels at sea as well. Photo: Elbit
Admittedly, there is no seamanship in the Jewish DNA. The Jews are not a nation of seafarers, even though we had settled on the shores of the Mediterranean thousands of years ago – and that is the land we still inhabit today. Nevertheless, a shipbuilding industry has developed in Israel. Some of the vessels produced in this country are common in Israel and in the fleets of foreign naval forces. Israel Shipyards, the 60-year-old shipbuilding industry located in Haifa, Israel, has produced 124 vessels (including 76 military vessels) over the years.
Israel Shipyards has sold about 70 vessels, including 40 Sa'ar frigates and 32 Shaldag fast patrol boats in Israel, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Mediterranean countries. Various models by RAMTA (IAI) have been sold worldwide and were used by the Israeli Navy for many years. Vessels manufactured by Israel Shipyards are currently sailing the seven seas.
At Israel Shipyards they stress the importance of retaining the ability to build ships in Israel. The key to retaining that ability is to manufacture operational vessels for the IDF Navy and subsequently market such vessels to many other clients worldwide. Vessels built by Israel Shipyards are fitted with weapon, command, control and communication systems by the Israeli defense industries. The value chain Israeli industry gains owing to the ability to manufacture ships at Israel shipyards is significant, and sources at Israel Shipyards stress the national importance of retaining and further developing the shipbuilding ability.
Earlier this summer, Israel Shipyards held a ceremony at their Haifa facility in which they launched a ship built for a Latin American country. The ship in question belongs to the OPV (Offshore Patrol Vessel) category – a vessel for protecting the Exclusive Economic Zone. It is 62 meters long, has a displacement of 450 tons, and armed with a stabilized gun system by Rafael, night vision systems by Controp, and state-of-the-art navigation and communication systems by other Israeli defense industries. The ship was also fitted with a helicopter deck.
In 2018, a similar OPV was delivered to Cyprus. That vessel, too, was fitted with a weapon system by Rafael, along with C2 systems by HarTech Technologies and a communication system by the TechMer Company – all manufactured in Israel. The function of this vessel is to secure the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus.
From Giant Destroyers to Small Vessels
These are two representative examples of Israeli capabilities to manufacture and fit naval vessels. Israel Shipyards has identified a global need for relatively small vessels fitted and armed with state-of-the-art systems. Gone are the days of massive destroyers with huge guns on board. Today, the name of the game is reducing the size of the vessels and providing them with lethal weapon systems and cutting-edge electronics.
OPV. Photo: Israel Shipyards
At the launching ceremony, Shlomi Fogel, one of the owners of Israel Shipyards (which is a privately-owned company now) referred to the Israeli client, the Israeli Navy, and said that the Company's duty was "to ensure the independence of the Navy in building up its military strength." The Israeli Navy is a primary client of Israel Shipyards, which has a workforce of 400 employees – 40 of whom are engineers. The marketing director in charge of Latin America, Ilan Lavi, explains that his company deals with the design, manufacturing, and maintenance of naval vessels.
Today, Israel Shipyards manufactures two naval vessel families: Shaldag fast patrol boats and OPVs, used for inshore and EEZ protection. The Shaldag boats are made of aluminum, capable of remaining at sea between four and six days continuously. These boats handle well even under extreme sea conditions. To date, Shaldag boats have been sold to the State of Israel, to Argentina, and to numerous other naval forces worldwide.
Israel Shipyards CEO Eitan Zucker has recently unveiled the OPV-45 model at the IMDEX exhibition in Singapore. This new, modern vessel model is offered to naval forces dealing with the need for inshore and offshore patrol operations. The OPV-45 has two engines and a large high-speed interception patrol boat that may be promptly lowered and launched from the mother OPV. It may be fitted with an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) system, with equipment for dealing with naval mines, and with a mechanism at the stern for promptly launching a high-speed interception boat that may double as a survivor rescue boat. These characteristics are vital for transporting warfighters to the intervention area and transferring them quickly to the patrol boat or to the shore.
The Next Generation of the Israeli Navy
Israel Shipyards currently offers the Israeli Navy their Sa'ar S-72 vessel, an 800-ton Missile Corvette. This vessel, which is currently entering the production stage, was adapted to the Navy's requirements. It has two engines plus four generators offering low-speed hybrid electrical propulsion.
The vessel was designed to develop speeds of more than 28 knots and possesses cutting-edge attack capabilities, including surface missiles and a high-precision gun system, as well as the ability to carry an anti-missile/anti-aircraft missile defense system. The vessel is fitted with electronic warfare and C2 systems, developed and manufactured by the Israeli defense industry.
The Shaldag Mk-2 is a fast patrol boat with two water jet systems propelling the boat by pumping and ejecting powerful water jets. This boat is capable of high speeds up to 48 knots at sea and has a gun at the bow and 60-ton displacement. It can remain at sea for four days and is effective under any sea conditions. An eight-man crew operates this boat.
The Shaldag Mk-2 is regarded as a "surfing" vessel, as it can surf the water, which provides it with excellent maneuverability. Israel Shipyards supplied four boats of this type to Argentina, and they are currently operating along the Parana River. This boat can accelerate from zero to 40 knots in less than one minute and is capable of approaching and actually touching the shore. In this way, the crew of such a boat has recently succeeded in capturing a shipment of 180 Marijuana plants during an operational patrol. The Shaldag FPB offers excellent mission flexibility, stealth, fast approach, effective day/night surveillance capabilities, and deterring armament.
Israel Shipyards also offers the IDF Navy their Shaldag Mk-5 FPB, adapted to the Navy's operational method. The Shaldag Mk-5 is a proven vessel offering exceptional performance characteristics for a vessel of this size. The Shaldag Mk-5 can handle offshore and inshore patrol operations and provides an optimal operational solution to the need to protect and secure Israel's territorial water boundaries and EEZ. The vessel is fitted with the Typhoon and Mini-Typhoon stabilized weapon stations by Rafael, along with short-range surface-to-surface missiles.
Shaldag Mk-2. Photo: Israel Shipyards
Over the last few years, Israel Shipyards have completed substantial infrastructure work that would enable them to handle vessels with displacements of up to 3,000 tons. Their facilities are now capable of accommodating the vessels of the Israeli Navy. This is a national capability that contributes to the development of Israel's EEZ.
Manufacturing Naval Vessels in the Desert
IAI's RAMTA Division is perhaps the only shipyard in the world where ships are manufactured in the desert. Their highly popular Dvora and Super Dvora patrol boats have been in service with the Israeli Navy for many years. These two models account for 85% of the Navy's vessels. A new version called the Dvora Mk-4 is currently entering production and will be offered to the Navy as a replacement for the aging Nirit boats.
The Dvora Mk-4 fast patrol boat represents current trends for combat naval vessels – most of the vessels of every navy are effective in inshore operations as far as their characteristics are concerned, and only a few are designed to sail and operate on the high seas, offshore. Vessels in the larger categories are being reduced in size, but vessels designed for routine security missions are being enlarged to some extent, so as to accommodate more equipment and armament.
"We build the Dvora Mk-4 boats as a tailor-made project," explains RAMTA CEO David Hayout. "In other words, we do everything according to the client's requirements. Whatever the client wants and orders, we will fit to the boat. For example, we can provide a water cannon for keeping fishermen approaching the boat (like the fisherman from the Gaza Strip) away; a vessel without prominent, protruding antennae; or an autonomous operation capability."
RAMTA also develops new generations of sensors and sensing systems for naval operations. The division does not manufacture the engines for their naval vessels. They import the engines from such manufacturers as Caterpillar or Detroit Diesel MTU. The Dvora boat has two propulsion systems: a water jet system and a surface drive system. The propulsion system consists of two surface drives that propel the vessel. The client has a choice of the type of drive he prefers for the vessel he acquires. RAMTA stresses that the Dvora Mk-4, which they intend to offer to the Israeli Navy, can be fitted with combat systems, electronic warfare systems, and missile systems – all in response to the relevant threats. All RAMTA vessels are fitted with such weapon systems as 20mm or 23mm guns, capable of rapid fire after having identified the targets, surface-to-surface missile systems, and night vision systems. The new model will have a 12-man crew, and the boat will be made of aluminum, so as to offer a lightweight vessel. The new Dvora Mk-4 will be capable of speeds up to 45 knots.
In the past, IAI announced that they manufactured an autonomous Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) designated Katana. This vessel was manufactured at IAI's MALAM Division in central Israel. Katana is a high-speed USV designed for routine security operations – sea boundary and port protection. The vessel is armed and has a dual steering and control system – both autonomous and operator-controlled, as per the operator's choice.
The Autonomous Seagull
Unlike Israel Shipyards and IAI RAMTA, Elbit Systems does not manufacture naval vessels but develops and manufactures integrated systems such vessels. When they need a hull for a naval vessel, they will purchase it in the Netherlands and fit whatever the client requires onto it. Elbit Systems has acquired a Canadian sonar manufacturer, GTI of Halifax, which specializes in sonars for underwater surveillance. Another production line at Elbit Systems manufactures the Seagull USV.
"Integrating naval combat systems – that's the name of our game," says Yaron Levi, Head of Naval Systems at Elbit Systems. "We incorporated C2, EW, communication, electro-optics, and data channels in the Sa'ar 5 frigates, in a frigate in Canada and in naval vessels in Venezuela. We deal with surface warfare and depth warfare systems, handling aerial platforms from the vessel, protecting vital assets, intelligence and assembly of the naval status picture.
"There are new trends like integrating UAVs, commanding our autonomous vessel, the Seagull – all of these activities necessitate the development of tools for command and control and for receiving and processing data, as well as the manufacture of control stations. In Greece, we have a joint project with an Italian company, manufacturing ships for the Greek Coast Guard, for which we provide the combat suite. Having acquired the Canadian company, we now possess the ability to provide systems for attacking targets at sea. In other words, the strength of Elbit Systems is in top-quality integration."
Seagull is the most prominent naval product by Elbit Systems – a USV in whose development millions of dollars had been invested. Two Seagull USVs have been produced to date. The original plan was to build an autonomous, unmanned vessel specializing in underwater missions, Anti-Submarine Warfare, and handling of naval mines. The vessel can remain at sea for four days, it is 12 meters long and is capable of speeds of up to 30 knots. This lightweight aluminum USV has a sonar system and can launch a torpedo by remote control from the port or from another vessel at sea, from a range of 15 nautical miles. There is also an option for satellite control.
Combining between Sea & Air
The idea is for two autonomous Seagull USVs to operate at sea, with one focusing on electronics – assembling the status picture using sonar, and the other one operating devices for neutralizing naval mines, with the entire system operating fully autonomously – except the operator's approval for gun fire or a torpedo launch.
SEAGULL, Elbit's prominent marine product. Company photography
"The vessel was introduced two years ago in Belgium, and the demonstration was conducted in the North Sea. The task was to detect naval mines. There were real targets and dummy targets, decoys. We arrived there on board a Belgian mother ship, installed all of the equipment for three hours and put out to sea. Sea conditions were bad, but the experiment was successful. Elbit Systems' naval gun and torpedo systems are also remotely controlled, guided by an electro-optical system," says Levi.
Elbit is developing the capabilities required to enable cooperation between naval vessels and UAVs. The shipborne Skylark C as well as the two larger UAVs, the Hermes-450 and the massive Hermes-900, possess maritime capabilities and assist in the assembly of a maritime status picture.
For the past 30 years, the DSIT Company (50% owned by Rafael) has been specializing in the development, manufacture, and marketing of marine sonar systems for naval vessels, for detecting underwater vessels, submarines, divers, and swimmers – mainly those approaching for hostile purposes.
Some 150 systems by DSIT are in operation in Israel, America, Europe, and Asia. The Company offers complete underwater defense suites, and the State of Israel is one of its clients. DSIT offers sonar systems for such naval vessels as frigates and inshore patrol boats, for shore defense and for detecting submarines and divers at sea.
According to Hannan Marom, VP Marketing & Development at DSIT, "The development of sonar systems is a complex undertaking, as you must take into consideration the whims of the sea medium through which the sound waves are transmitted. The sea has different layers, the temperatures vary according to depth – hot water and cold water, and it all affects the detection potential. Every vessel has an underwater signature – its own typical noise, and the same goes for the propeller of every ship and the metal driveshaft of every naval vessel. The equipment must have the ability to analyze acoustics and determine whether the target in the water is a human or perhaps an animal. The sonar systems we manufacture are intended for port security systems, for protecting offshore rigs or defending naval vessels against torpedoes."
DSIT's flagship product is the AquaShield system, a stationary device installed in dozens of sites worldwide, including offshore oil and gas rigs, ports, and various other installations. The system is connected to an underwater pole, and the sonar will detect threats like submarines, smugglers, or enemy elements. The system has a mobile version – the PointShield system – lowered from a vessel into the water in order to find out what is going on around the vessel. Detection range is up to 1,000 meters.
One of the most important products of the DSIT Company is their diver and swimmer detection system. The system provides the operator with an indication of the diver while he is moving in the water, especially if he uses an underwater vehicle, in which case there is no doubt about his intentions, and the target will be positively identified as a hostile diver. This is the significance of underwater terrorism.
DSIT addresses other aspects of the underwater medium: they offer a system that measures underwater noises; they analyze acoustic signatures; a surveillance system laid on the bottom of the sea to detect any vessel approaching the port, collect all the underwater signatures of the various vessels and the various noises to study their significance and the identity of the vessels; the Blackfish system – a sizable device installed onboard a vessel to provide "incrimination" – positive identification of hostile vessels; and a 1-kilometer-long tail-like towed Torpedo Detecting Sonar (TDS) array.
"DSIT manufactures a range of products and systems, and our advantage stems from the fact that we offer a suite of defense/protection products, a complete defensive layer made up of all or part of the products we outlined, all according to the client's preferences and based on the threats," says Marom. This Israeli company has supplied its products to the Ministry of Defense of the Netherlands, presented its solutions to the US Navy, supplied equipment to the Polish port of Gdansk, and will secure the Israeli offshore gas fields.