December 20, 2022 | Insight

The U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group Gets Busy

December 20, 2022 | Insight

The U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group Gets Busy

Leaders from the Pentagon and Israel’s Ministry of Defense convened the second meeting of the U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group (OTWG) in Israel last month to advance research and development (R&D) cooperation between the two militaries. If both governments continue to seize the opportunity and Congress holds the OTWG accountable for tangible results, the working group can help ensure that American and Israeli warfighters do not confront adversaries wielding more sophisticated weapons.

With bipartisan congressional leadership by Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) as well as Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), and others, Congress authorized the establishment of the OTWG in Section 1299M of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, which became law on January 1, 2021.

The Department of Defense and Israel’s Ministry of Defense then developed a memorandum of understanding and established the OTWG on November 1, 2021. The group convened its inaugural meeting in the United States in May 2022.

Following that meeting, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee both used their respective committee reports for the annual defense bill to applaud the establishment of the OTWG and reiterate the OTWG’s four purposes explicitly. These include:

(1) Providing a standing forum for the United States and Israel to systematically share intelligence-formed military capability requirements;

(2) Identifying military capability requirements common to the Department of Defense and the Ministry of Defense of Israel;

(3) Assisting defense suppliers in the United States and Israel by assessing recommendations from such defense suppliers with respect to joint science, technology, research, development, test, evaluation, and production efforts; and

(4) Developing, as feasible and advisable, combined United States-Israel plans to research, develop, procure, and field weapon systems and military capabilities as quickly and economically as possible to meet common capability requirements of the Department and the Ministry of Defense of Israel.

In summary, the OTWG seeks to identify vital military requirements shared by both militaries as early as possible, receive proposals from American and Israeli industry to quickly meet those requirements, and then establish combined plans to develop and field those capabilities to both militaries as quickly as possible. That process, spurred by accountability to Congress, can expedite the delivery of game-changing technologies and capabilities.

To be sure, the United States and Israel already enjoy a deep defense partnership. Nevertheless, dangerous military capability gaps continued to emerge in recent years that the OTWG can prevent going forward.

Consider, for example, that it took the Pentagon until 2019 to acquire for U.S. tanks Israeli-made active protection systems that the Israel Defense Forces has used since 2011. Consequently, U.S. soldiers deployed for years lacking this cutting-edge protection against missiles and rockets, subjecting those troops to unnecessary risk.

Given the trajectory of the U.S. competition with China, Americans may pay a higher cost for such delays in the future. The Pentagon’s annual China Military Power Report published last month makes clear that Beijing is sprinting to develop advanced capabilities designed to defeat U.S. forces. The United States often takes far too long to go from concept to fielded combat capability. Working with Israel, a country known for fielding new cutting-edge combat capabilities quickly, can help ensure American warfighters have what they need sooner so they can accomplish their missions and return home safely.

Similarly, when Israel waits for extended periods for U.S. government agencies to approve combined R&D programs, the urgency of the threats often forces Jerusalem to forge ahead on its own. When that happens, the United States misses out on Israeli agility in fielding new weapons, and Israel misses out on American innovations and economies of scale (i.e., lower unit costs based on larger purchases), depriving Israel of precious opportunities to stretch its finite defense budget. That dynamic also prevents the two militaries from fielding the same capabilities simultaneously, which would facilitate more effective combined training and operations.

If the meeting last month in Israel is any indication, the U.S. Department of Defense and Israel’s Ministry of Defense see the opportunity, take the OTWG’s four tasks seriously, and are moving with a sense of urgency. U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu and her Israeli counterpart, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Dr. Daniel Gold, the head of Defense Research and Development, convened both the May and November meetings.

They have established six sub-working groups: artificial intelligence/autonomy, directed energy, counter-unmanned aerial systems, biotechnology, integrated network systems-of-systems, and hypersonic capabilities. Not surprisingly, these areas of focus mirror some of the Department of Defense’s top R&D priorities.

The OTWG’s early momentum is good news for the security of the United States and Israel. The Biden administration’s next report to Congress on the OTWG’s performance is due on March 15, 2023, according to the 2021 NDAA. Members of the armed services committees will also expect regular updates from Under Secretary Shyu on the OTWG’s progress in fulfilling its responsibilities and delivering on expected results.

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.


Israel Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy