Talk Belies Action on Israeli Responsive Space

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Israeli military officials have embraced the concept of operationally responsible space, which refers to the ability to deploy satellite capabilities quickly and inexpensively as military needs arise, but to date few resources have been committed to developing this type of capability.

Maj. Gen. IdoNehushtan, commander of the Israel Air Force, and Lt. Col. OferLapid, chief technical officer of the Ministry of Defense’s space directorate, devoted conference presentations to the need for responsive space. Both expounded on the value of microsatellites readily available to support tactical-level operations or emergency special missions.

“Space provides for Israel’s strategic depth,” said Nehushtan. “I want better satellites with a blend of sensors for operational responsiveness down to the tactical level. As much as possible, I’d like an aircraft to deploy satellites whenever they’re needed.”

About five years ago, two state-owned companies, Rafael Ltd. and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), created a joint venture to produce a system for launching satellites weighing 120 kilograms or less from an F-15 combat aircraft. But despite the initial hype, MicroSat Israel exists in name only, with no orders and minimal budget assigned to support the effort.

In interviews here, officials and experts acknowledge little substantive progress in operationally responsive space. Beyond preliminary studies within the Defense Ministry’s research and development directorate and at Israel’s Technion University, the Israel Air Force has yet to approve an operational concept, has not moved to define a deployment concept, and is nowhere near allocating funds needed to translate talk into a tangible program.

TalInbar, head of the Fisher Institute’s Space and UAV Research Center, said his organization first began promoting responsive space in 2004. “Responsive space is a matter of strategic importance that should be open for discussion and debate,” Inbar said.

But as much as he welcomed the high-level support offered in public, “at some point, it should start to reflect what’s really going on,” Inbar said.