Feature: Military-civilian integration features Israel's leading high-tech industry

Source: Xinhua| 2018-06-16 00:12:17|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, June 15 (Xinhua) -- A Jewish mother always wanted her son to be a doctor or a lawyer. It was a sign of success and a promise for a bright future. But it is not the situation any more.

With mandatory military service in Israel for males and females above 18 years old, many aim to serve in the army's technological units, seen as the best preparation for a successful, and perhaps rich, civilian adult life.

Many believe that the symbiotic relationship between the military and civilian industries in Israel is the foundation of Israel's global hi-tech success.

Many of Israel's leading innovative technology came from people who got their first hands-on experience in one of the country's military tech units, famous for its advanced technology, often developed in a crunch, and the availability of highly-skilled cyber-security experts.

Some of the country's most famous start-up exports were created by alumni from the military units, the leading one being the 8200 intelligence unit, in charge of collecting signal intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

Natan Barak is the CEO and co-founder of mPrest, a global provider of monitoring and control systems for defense, security and utility sectors.

The firm is behind the cutting-edge technology that enabled the success of the Iron Dome air defense system. Operational since 2011, the system has intercepted hundreds of short-to-medium range rockets fired into Israel in recent conflicts.

The system was the first in the world that was able to deal with such a challenge. It is a highly sophisticated system which needs to adapt within seconds to deadly threats. Rockets fired and expected to land in unpopulated areas will not be intercepted, highlighting the cutting-edge nature of the system.

The intense life-and-death experiences are translated into business success. The strive for perfection which will save lives leads to precise technologies.

"We take real time big data analysis and machine learning into civilian systems," Barak explained. "If we cannot supply a system that is 99.9 percent accurate and reliable, we might cause damage that we will lose sleep over."

The army begin their selection of appropriate candidates while the children were still in high school. In this way, they can pick the best candidates from a large pool.

"The army provides an amazing school, anyone who finishes this school is much better than the average person in the job market, not only because of the experience, but also because of the screening process," Barak told Xinhua.

MPrest is behind many smart cities around the world and also provides electricity companies around the world with large scale electricity grid management systems, amongst other products offered by the firm.

The Israeli government has also realized the great potential that lies within the military for ground-breaking civilian technology.

Just recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a new plan for military defense technologies based on quantum computing. Any advancements Israel will make in the field will surely seep into the civilian world.

"What needs to be done is to marry this huge government investment in technologies... to markets and a startup culture, a free market environment that encourages the graduates of the IDF and other... arms to form their own companies and to create the industries, the knowledge industries of the future," said Netanyahu at a recent Science and Technology conference held in Jerusalem.

Argus is another example. All founders of this automotive cybersecurity firm are former officers of the 8200 intelligence unit.

With almost all new cars today connected to the internet, Argus embeds software necessary to protect vehicles from cyber-attacks. It was a need that no one in the market has addressed before.

"In many ways, we had to create and educate the market and it took a lot of effort," said Yoni Heilbronn, Chief Marketing Officer at Argus. "Today, it is seen as a prerequisite or part of the underlying infrastructure for cars. It took us a while to get there."

Heilbronn told Xinhua the product has already been sold to leading car manufacturers in the world. The company has offices in Japan, Germany and the United States, in addition to its Israeli headquarters.

"Our background gives us a lot of credibility," Heilbronn said. "The brand of 8200 is something well known worldwide for excellence and expertise for technology in general and more specifically in cybersecurity."

The alumni from the technological units are by large a closely knit network which then help each other get recruited to lucrative positions in the private sector.

The constant interaction between the civilian and military sectors in the small country is unique. The quick verification process of technologies and implementation of change contribute to an agile industry.

This is perhaps one of the elements in the formula of Israel's success - the ability to adapt quickly after identifying the changing needs both in the military and in the civilian world amid another round of industrial revolution.

In the past two decades, over 10,000 start-up companies have been founded by Israelis, several of which were sold to global giants such as Google, Intel and Facebook.

At the core of the thriving innovative scene is a belief that failure is an integral part of the process not to be hidden or ashamed of.

"You are sometimes given tasks that other people tried before and failed, you just don't know that," Heilbronn recalled his military service. "Sometimes these are things on the verge of science fiction and this demands to be very creative. As long as there is an underlying message that you learn from your failures, it means that the next time you try something, you are unlikely to make the same mistakes."

"I should be humble in giving advice," Heilbronn told Xinhua. "But openness and the willingness to embrace change and the notion of constructive failure are potentially the most important lessons that should be shared globally in order to foster innovation."