Comprehensive coverage

Please get to know: Israeli NASA

First exposure: This is how the IDF's secret test base works * "Dealing with the pressures of the defense industries is not easy"

Amir Rapaport, Maariv 4/7/03

Photo: Eli Desa and IDF spokesman
Direct link to this page:

The tens of thousands of drivers who pass daily in the western part of Rishon Lezion can only try to peek through the fence, which borders one of the most beautiful (and expensive) stretches of beach in the country, and which stretches from the edge of the Pueblo Español neighborhood in Rishon-West to the Palmahim sands. It is not possible to enter this fenced strip of beach, because it has been expropriated from bathers and from any possible development plan in favor of one of the IDF's secret bases: the Palmachim experimental base. This is the base where the most advanced combat systems developed in Israel, and the military vehicles, are tested.

A rare glimpse that was made possible last week for businesses beyond the fences, reveals that the testing base not only sits on expensive land, but is also managed as a contracting company that collects money from any party in the security system, including IDF units, that want to carry out
In which experiments.
The IDF's experimental unit has a name that sounds a bit pretentious - NASA (experiments and quality assurance. It has, of course, nothing to do with NASA, the American space agency). The unit belongs, in fact, to the Technology Unit (IHT) of the Technology and Logistics Division at the General Headquarters. In the past, the IDF had separate units
for testing and quality assurance. NASA is, in fact, a merger of these two fields, and therefore the soldiers and engineers of the unit are not only in the experimental areas of Palmachim, but are also scattered in defense plants throughout the country that provide means
combat for the IDF, to examine their production processes.

The unified unit is set up on the beach to allow firing tests directed towards the sea.
NASA has another huge firing area in the south, adjacent to the Israel-Egypt border, which is intended for land tests where the form of impact of the shells on the ground and their dispersion must also be examined, and not just the shooting itself, as can be done in the Palmachims. Dozens of experiments are conducted every day in both fire areas together. By the way, to the Air Force and Israel
For the development of weapons (Rafal) there is another very advanced test field in the Negev, which does not belong to NASA, but there the preparations for the complex tests begin weeks before each test, and therefore only a few tests are conducted there per year, mainly designed to test bombs
At the NASA experiment base in Palmachim there are hundreds of computerized facilities that measure the muzzle velocities of the bullets, the durability of the shielding and the performance of the engines. for example,
Every new IDF Merkava tank goes through a comprehensive series of tests at Palmahim before it enters service.

self-employed in the field

The NASA commander, Col. Icha Ochman, is a mechanical engineer who started his career as a young officer, came to the unit from the academic reserve track, and climbed it until he was appointed to head it. "Actually, the experimental unit is a financial business for everything," says Ochman,
which reveals that its annual budget for experiments is no less than NIS 85 million. The budget is based on the unit 'revenue'. For example, if the command of the IDF's ground arm wants to conduct an experiment for a jeep to be used by commanders in the field, NASA charges it money.

The method in which a military unit conducts itself as a civil society is intended to encourage it to save on its current expenses, as well as to encourage the entities that need experiments to conduct them on an economic basis. NASA also collects money from civil bodies, such as the IAS and companies
Other security services, which are required to pay an average of NIS 15 for a trial day. According to Ochman, the recession is also felt in the IDF's 'market': "As with citizenship, the economic situation is not easy for us either. Because of the cuts in the defense budget, each body weighs how much
times before he conducts an experiment, so we also have to cut back."

One of the difficult issues that NASA is dealing with is pressure from the bodies and companies that produce the means of combat and defense for the IDF, and that it examines their products. Inside the Palmachim base, for example, an experiment is taking place these days
Warning fences were erected by several manufacturers, so that the IDF could decide which fence is most suitable for use in the settlements of the territories.

"We are not naive," says Ochman, "the pressure is enormous. There are companies that hire reserve champions, who come to the test area and take pictures of the competing companies' settings, even though they are not allowed, because they think that the junior soldiers will not notice
to them. We are also aware of the possibility that there will be technicians from certain companies who will try to sabotage the fences of competing companies, while they supposedly come to maintain their fence,
And we are working to prevent that."

mixture experiments

The pressure also exists in factories working with the experimental unit throughout the country. Sergeant Major Dana Haliva, a counterman in the unit, says that a factory that is supposed to produce some kind of optical device for the ground forces, is having difficulty these days delivering the goods. "On the one hand, it is important
We want the factory to be successful and for the workers to have a livelihood, and also for the product to reach the warriors who need it," Haliva says. "On the other hand, the product is simply not good. With no choice, we gave the factory a final ultimatum to successfully complete the development experiments after a series
failures, and if he does not pass the test after all the opportunities we have given him, we will have no choice but to reject the product."

Can there be any reason for a defect in that some of the unit's personnel are stationed in civilian factories, dine with the workers in the dining rooms and then have to visit what they are
Ochman: "This is a problematic issue that we think about quite a bit. For me, it would have been better if the people of the unit - not only did not eat with the workers in the dining room, but also did not travel in the shuttles with the workers. But sometimes we have no choice but to approve transportation
Such, simply because we do not have enough vehicles and there is no public transportation to the defense plants. To prevent too close a relationship between examiners and employees, we try to move people from place to place from time to time and also conduct external audits. It should be understood that not every test receives close scrutiny, but we try to do it
such criticism as possible. This is mainly since 4 years ago, a fraud case was discovered in a factory that provided improper sights for IDF weapons - after they trusted its self-testing.

"Dealing with the pressures of the defense industries is definitely not easy. There have been cases where managers have accused the examiners of accusations that are not clean. There were cases where they were told:
"Because of you, 30 employees will be fired." Standing up to pressure is not easy, in many cases the differences of opinion reach my desk as the commander of the unit."

At the base of the experiments in Palmachim, they are very careful about accidents and malfunctions, due to the huge firing ranges of weapons, some of which are only in preliminary testing processes and therefore their level of safety is unknown. When considering tanks or jeeps, for example,
The testers have to push the cannon and engine to their limit, far beyond the normal safety limits, to test the durability in the extreme conditions
Most - something that involves risk.
"Car tests in extreme conditions are done by professional drivers," says Ochman. "We try to carry out most of the shooting experiments with remote control. Each experiment is recorded by cameras, which are able to separate images at the speed of a fraction of a second." On
The chances of an accident, Ochman adds: "We try not to stand near the firearms themselves, because even if the chance of a malfunction is one in a million, we do shoot a million times, so eventually a malfunction will occur. During the experiments, a system of automatic barriers
At the base, the entrance to potentially dangerous areas is blocked."

Density on land, in the air and at sea

The location of the experimental area on the coastal strip in the heart of the country is extremely problematic. In recent years, NASA has been forced to move some of the ongoing experiments that are conducted under heavy fire to the more southern areas of the base, near Kibbutz Palmahim, in order to avoid noise in the areas
The developing construction of West Rishon Lezion, adjacent to the northern part of the base.
At the base, you can feel the crowding not only because of the residents in the nearby neighborhoods, but also because of the boats in the sea and even the planes in the air. "We only shoot at transit areas
for one kilometer, where the sea is already deep enough so that we don't have to deal with the disposal of bombs in case there are any that fall," says Ochman. "The length of the strip of sea that 'belongs to us' is
17 kilometers. Ships know how to coordinate with us a passage within the area so as not to be harmed by experiments, and if there are fishermen who are not aware of the restrictions, we identify them with the radar and go out to keep them away."

About the planes, Ochman says: "When we start the tests in the morning, we notify the control tower at the airport, so that the planes don't pass over us. Last year, when a problem arose with El Al planes because ultra-Orthodox did not
They wanted to pass over the Holon cemetery, they asked us to allow the planes to pass over the base during the day instead of over the cemetery, but under no circumstances did we agree, because that would have eliminated our activity."
The NASA unit is currently involved in talks between the Ministry of National Infrastructures and the Tethys Oil Partnership, dealing with the possibility of an underwater pipeline being deployed from the reservoirs
The gas from the Tethys Sea will fly towards Haifa, through the area in the sea that is used for experiments. If it is decided to lay the gas line, it will be necessary to remove the fallen bombs from the sea, in a huge operation that was not
As is the case in Israel, after the laying of the pipeline is completed, they will have to protect it so that it will not be damaged by the shells and missiles.

is expensive

In view of the nature of the unit's activity, the question also arises as to whether it is not worthwhile to privatize the unit or to base its activity on permanent personnel, who will serve until the age of 55 and will not be released for citizenship at the age of 45, precisely at the peak of their professional career. Lt. Col. Liran Toval,
An engineer who is responsible for the materials field at NASA, does not rule out the possibility: "It is possible that permanent personnel in a unit like ours should serve until an older age, but it should be understood that there are many advantages to the fact that such an experimental unit is military", he
says, but adds: "Furthermore, almost 200 of the unit's engineers and professional staff are in any case civilians working for the IDF and not permanent personnel." Col. Ochman: "I think the base of the unit should be made up of civilians who are professionals, but
There should also be a few military personnel. Commanders, who change positions from time to time, put 'pepper' in all the sub-units and prevent the yeast from freezing."
And what about the expensive coastal strip in the heart of the country, on which the base is located - is there a chance that the IDF will vacate it in the long run? A little surprising, but the eviction may occur because
unexpected constraint. The area of ​​the experimental base in Palmachim extends over no less than 7 kilometers from the coast and 2 kilometers wide inland. It turns out that about two years ago the government decided to transfer the responsibility of the municipality of Rishon Lezion to most of the land
The base that until now did not belong to any local authority, with the exception of an area of ​​700 meters, for which the Ministry of Defense already pays the municipality 3 million shekels per year.
In the government's decision it was determined that it will come into effect within 15 years. Since two years have already passed, the Ministry of Defense will be required to pay tens of millions of shekels to the Rishon Lezion Municipality for the entire area in the remaining years until the government's decision
to the attacker Ochman: "If it really amounts to tens of millions of shekels a year, it could be that when the annexation goes into effect, the commanders of the unit will have no choice but to give up the sea and leave."

One response

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.