The war in Ukraine has awakened Europe to the fact that its air defence systems are not adequate to cope with today's threats like the ones used by Russia in its never-ending war in Ukraine.
Last week it was Finland, the newest NATO member, that turned this realisation into a contract, announcing that it would purchase the Israeli-made David’s Sling air defence system, and on April 10, the Israeli Ministry of Defence announced that Greece will purchase Rafael Spike missiles in a deal valued at €370 million.
The Finnish Defence Forces will procure the David's Sling system as the country's next long-range air defence system. Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defence Systems will deliver the system. The value of the procurement without VAT is approximately €316 million.
The David's Sling system will extend the operational range of Finland's ground-based air defence capabilities significantly. The minimum flight altitude requirement of the system was set at 15,000 meters in the Request for Quotation. According to the Finnish government, this acquisition will create a new capability for the Finnish Defence Forces to intercept targets at high altitudes. The contract includes further options worth €216 million euros excluding VAT. The exercising of these options requires a separate decision.
A separate part of the procurement contract between the Israel Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Defence of Finland is designed to ensure the security of supply of the system. The arrangement will ensure the availability of critical system components in all security situations.
The David's Sling system is a long-range air defence system jointly developed by Israel and the United States. The sale of the system to Finland will require a sales release by the US government. Finnish industry, together with Rafael and Raytheon, will participate in the integration of the system and in the planning and equipping of the command-and-control elements.
After the US shot down a Chinese spy balloon, countries in Europe realised that they are also a target for this type of system. According to White House and Pentagon sources, China has used surveillance balloons over at least five continents, in the past few years as part of a bigger intelligence-gathering campaign.
The revelation was released a few days after one of the alleged spy balloons was shot down off the coast of South Carolina after flying over the US. Europe started to look for advanced sensors and defence systems and Israel was the natural source. In recent months delegations from some European countries visited Israel to be briefed on long-range detection systems for aerial threats and systems that can shoot them down.
But this interest faces a hurdle. Israeli defence companies anticipate that the US will try to persuade NATO members to purchase American-made defence systems and not Israeli ones that already attract huge attention due to the war in Ukraine.
Only heavy pressure applied by Germany forced the US to approve the sale of the Israeli-made Arrow systems against ballistic missiles to be used by the German Air Force. The shopping lists prepared by some European countries include systems that, according to defence industry sources, are valued in "numbers never seen before."
Major General (ret.) Amos Yadlin, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center says he does not see a US policy about contracts between European countries and Israeli defence companies, but some problems may appear.
"When only Germany is allocating €100 billion to improve its defences it is very likely that pressure will be put by Washington on some proposed contracts. It will not be an across-the-board effort to undermine business with Israeli companies but some proposed deals with Israeli companies will bring opposition from Washington."
A former very high-ranking official in one of Israel's main defence companies said that American pressure should be anticipated when European countries rearm, but at the end of the day, European countries will buy what they think is the best solution. The official added that unlike Israel, European countries do not receive Foreign Military Sale funds from the US, which gives them more freedom to buy systems not made in the US.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, more European countries understand that the Russian threat is very real and have decided to increase their defensive capabilities. Some are also interested in offensive capabilities.
According to a senior Israeli defence official, other countries are already in negotiations with the Israeli Ministry of Defence and defence industries about the rapid evaluation of Israeli systems that can upgrade their capability to defend themselves against Russian missiles. While this seems the top priority, other systems are also on the shopping list.
The senior source added that Poland, Romania, and the Scandinavian countries are already talking with "the right people" in Israel about rapid acquisitions. The official who spoke with Defence Procurement International on condition of anonymity revealed that the first presentation of some Israeli-made systems was scheduled for early 2023.
According to Israeli defence industry sources, the priority for European countries that feel the Russian threat is real are air defence systems made by Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The Israeli systems that will be demonstrated to new European clients are Rafael's Spyder and Iron Dome.
In 2021, the Czech Ministry of Defence purchased Rafael’s advanced air defence systems in a contract valued at $520 million. According to the contract, the Czech Republic will be equipped with four Spyder batteries, which include MMR radars produced by IAI.
Spyder is an air defence system based on Rafael’s Python and Derby air-to-air missiles and is designed to intercept a variety of airborne threats including planes, helicopters, and UAVs. These will be integrated into the NATO country’s infrastructure and will defend Czech skies. Other European countries are thought to be interested in the system.
The other Rafael system that is included in any European shopping list is the combat-proven Iron Dome which in recent clashes with Hamas in Gaza, is said to have successfully intercepted 97% of rockets that were launched into Israel.
Interest in IAI's Barak MX is also peaking. Barak-MX is a modular air defence system designed to address missile and aircraft threats. It operates on both maritime and land platforms.