Two prominent members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are leading a bipartisan effort to establish a U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group (OTWG) that would coordinate and catalyze combined military research and development (R&D) efforts. As Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Gary Peters (D-MI) argue in a letter sent to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Friday, such a working group could help ensure that U.S. “warfighters never encounter a more technologically advanced foe.”
The senators envision the working group as a “permanent and dedicated forum” for the United States and Israel to “share intelligence-informed military capabilities requirements in a systematic manner.” Once the two countries identify future military capabilities they both will need, the OTWG could facilitate the development of “combined U.S.-Israel plans to research, develop, procure, and field systems as quickly and affordably as possible.”
As Esper warned in January, “History has taught us that those who are first to harness such innovation often gain a decisive advantage on the battlefield for the many years that follow.”
With respect to artificial intelligence and hypersonics, for example, the United States has struggled to retain its military superiority. Likewise, Israel’s military believes its “relative advantage is narrowing in certain domains,” requiring a “doubling down on technology.”
Cotton and Peters are right to suggest that a closer and more systematic defense partnership with Israel can help the United States win this competition to innovate. While Israel has a much smaller military and economy than does the United States, the senators note that Israel is a “technology superpower” that “exhibits an innovation agility and sense of urgency that can help catalyze U.S. defense programs.”
The United States and Israel already cooperate extensively on security matters, which benefits both countries. The OTWG would improve that cooperation without being redundant.
Cotton and Peters write, “despite laudable ongoing efforts, dangerous U.S. military capability gaps continue to emerge that more systematic and institutionalized U.S.-Israel early cooperative research and development could have prevented.”
The United States has periodically purchased weapons systems from Israel to fill significant military capability gaps. The U.S. Army, for example, recently purchased the Trophy Active Protection System (APS) from Israel to protect American M1 Abrams main battle tanks from rockets and missiles, filling a key capability gap.
But the Army could have closed this gap far sooner. The Trophy system has been operational in the Israeli military since 2011, but General Mark Milley testified in May 2018 that similar American programs were still “not ready yet for full rate production.” Had U.S. and Russian armored forces come to blows in Eastern Europe in the last five years, American tanks would have lacked the kind of APS protection that Russian tanks enjoyed.
Thankfully, that did not happen, but Americans may not be so lucky in the future.
The value of the OTWG is that it would help deliver key capabilities to U.S. warfighters more quickly. Thanks to the economies of scale that cooperation with the United States would provide, the OTWG would also reduce unit costs for Israel – without slowing down or constraining Israeli R&D.
The Senate Armed Services Committee apparently agrees that a deeper defense partnership with Israel may be necessary. The committee tasked the Pentagon to provide a report by this month on U.S.-Israel R&D cooperation, specifically asking the Pentagon to address “shared capability gaps.”
Cotton and Peters come from different states and different parties, but they agree that the U.S. government has a “national security and moral imperative” to ensure our troops wield weapons and technologies second to none.
A U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group would help the Pentagon do just that.
Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). For more analysis from Brad and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Brad on Twitter at @Brad_L_Bowman. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.