F-35 Helmet

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Farnsworth, 419th Operations Support Squadron, poses for a photo to demonstrate the F-35 Generation III Helmet-Mounted Display at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on July 10, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erica Webster)

From American soldiers on the ground to F-35 pilots in the air to naval sonar operators, the Israeli firm Elbit wants its varied defense products in American servicemembers’ hands.

Through the firm’s American arm, Elbit Systems of America, Elbit is in the midst of an expansion into the US market, according to subsidiary president and CEO Raanan Horowitz, hailing a new facility, new US government contracts and planned acquisitions.

“We invest $70 million US annually in R&D in the US and that brought the US government to allocate special R&D funds that go directly to our activities aimed at developing new systems that will help US forces to acquire more capabilities,” Horowitz told Breaking Defense in a recent interview. “As part of our overall expansion plan, we are evaluating the possible acquisition of more local companies that have critical technologies.”

Elbit Systems of America has been operating since 1992, now with more than 20 facilities in the US stretching from its headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, to Boca Raton, Fla., plus a planned new facility in Charleston, S.C. It’s grown to pull in revenue of some $1.2 billion — more than 20% of its parent company’s $5.3 billion revenue, according to the company, and employs approximately 3,000 people.

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Raanan Horowitz is the president and CEO of Elbit Systems of America. (Courtesy Elbit Systems of America)

As the firm has grown, it has acquired different defense firms in part to gain access to the latest tech. Last year, for instance, the company acquired Sparton Corporation, which specializes in undersea warfare, for $380 million.

“The US armed forces have realized that underwater threats have become real and imminent. This is especially in the Asia-Pacific arena, but not only [there],” Horowitz said. “We develop and supply not only advanced sonars, but also underwater delivery systems that can be used to transfer different loads for submarines to other units. Sparton is a major supplier to the US Navy and that allows us to be involved in the most classified programs.”

As for other government work, just last month Elbit announced it won a delivery order valued at $49 million for night vision goggles for the US Marine Corps. Horowitz said night vision is one area in which the company hopes to expand its footprint.

“This market will grow and we have already invested in the next generation of these systems,” he said. “We work now on improving the resolutions of these systems, especially at night. This is an operational requirement and we will meet it with our vast experience. The new versions will have better data fusion capabilities and advanced VR features.”

But Elbit’s American arm may be better known for another visual system: the helmet displays for pilots of American fighter jets and helicopters. In perhaps its most high-profile deal, Elbit is working with L3 Harris Technologies on the F-35 advanced panoramic helmet display. The system, with built-in redundancy in case of failure, is designed to smart-stitch information into a visual display for the pilot, including a measured feed of sensor information, attack information and aircraft status data. (Israel also flies the F-35 and is credited with the plane’s first air-to-air kill after Israel said a pair of F-35s knocked out a couple drones in 2021.)

Horowitz said the two companies make a good team, based in part on Elbit’s familiarity with L3 Harris following the acquisition of an L3 Harris night vision subsidiary in 2019.

“The assets of this very advanced company, combined with our very vast experience in developing different displays for pilots should answer all the operational demands designed for the new display,” he said. “We […] expect that the new systems will gradually be installed in all the F-35 used by the US and its allies. We will soon start to supply our systems to the US F-35 users and otters all over the world.”

More recently, a joint venture between Elbit and Collins Aerospace in January won a $158 million modification to a contract for helmet “mounting cueing systems” for legacy jet fighters.

Horowitz added that the company is now offering its X-Sight augmented reality display system to Boeing for use on its helicopters, and is reportedly hoping it will be used by the pilots flying the winners of the US Army’s much-anticipated Future Vertical Lift competitions.

Beyond helmets, Horowitz said Elbit sees another US growth market in tech to keep pilots safe: advanced missile warning systems.

“We have this technology and we expect big orders from US users of different types of fighter aircraft and helicopters,” Horowitz said. “The operational need is to adjust the systems to the new threats, and we have the technology.”

Horowitz noted Elbit’s Music system, a laser-based missile countermeasure system, which the company says has already been selected to protect civilian airliners in Israel.

“The system we offer to the US armed forces will have only the very advanced warning capability based on our unique experience with such technology,” Horowitz said.

On the ground, Horowitz said he also sees combat vehicles as a potential big ticket item for the US market. The new facility in South Carolina, for instance, will house the company’s Ground Combat Vehicle Assembly and Integration Center of Excellence.

Horowitz pointed specifically to the company’s work with BAE Systems exploring the Army’s future Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV), saying Elbit would supply the remote-controlled turret for the vehicle.

Horowitz said Elbit is in discussions with the US Army about ground-to-ground missiles, following its parent company’s acquisition of Israel Military Industries years ago, but he said the US does not have an “immediate requirement” for the those arms at the moment.

Overall, Horowitz said Elbit System of America’s presence in the US isn’t just good for US military business, but provides the parent company additional security as the terms of a 2016 Foreign Military Financing agreement between the US and Israel are about to change. The current FMF agreement reduces the portion of the US dollars that can be exchanged to Israeli shekels to 0 by 2028, after which the Israeli government will be forced to buy only US systems. Elbit Systems of America’s presence in the US means it will still be eligible to sell to the Israeli government, putting the company at an advantage.

“Elbit has not waited for the change in FMS agreement and for eyears established a massive presence in the US,” he said. “That makes us fully ready for the changing regulations.”



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