How the Israeli Air Force is becoming like Google and IBM

How the Israeli Air Force is becoming like Google and IBM

Posted on the website July 13, 2017

High up in the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) building at military headquarters in Tel Aviv, a unique department is hard at work, bringing problem-solving techniques from the world of high-tech firms into the Middle East’s most powerful air force.

Founded a little more than three years ago by Maj. Omer Yuval, a former combat soldier who went into the private sector before returning to the military, the small IAF Innovation Department is mostly staffed by immigrants, many of whom have worked at high-tech giants like Google and IBM, where they developed cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence.

The unit became highly active and increasingly influential during the past year, Sgt. Ilan Regenbaum, an American immigrant to Israel who grew up in Atlanta, told

Maj. Omer Yuval (left), founder of the Israeli Air Force’s
Innovation Department
, with Sgt. Ilan Regenbaum. Credit: IDF.

South African-born Regenbaum was supposed to complete his military service in the department a year ago, but stayed on due to his love for the work. His background is typical of many of those in the department. He has a degree in finance and business management from New York’s Yeshiva University—though Regenbaum’s journey into the world of business began much earlier, when he was in middle school. At the time, he launched his first start-up, an events photography company that still exists today. In 2013, Regenbaum arrived in Israel on a Birthright Excel program, a visit that he says led him to discover the “start-up nation.”

A year later, he immigrated to Israel, and went to work for a start-up before moving to a venture capital firm. He then joined the IDF.

Today, Regenbaum said his IAF department works around the clock for “the goal of increasing the culture of innovation within the air force, and the military….not so much on the technological side, but more on the side of culture and organization—the way the air force functions.”

Many of the department’s projects cannot be publicized for security reasons. But Regenbaum affirmed the department is injecting techniques that are commonplace in major firms like Google and Facebook into the heart of the IAF.

“[Tech giants] don’t have a head of innovation, because it’s in their DNA to be innovative,” said Regenbaum. “It means that an employee, whether they are a 20-year veteran, or a first-year, have mechanisms and pathways to bring up problems and ideas, and be taken seriously.”

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Video above published on May 26, 2016 via the Bloomberg YouTube channel – Unit 8200 is an elite branch of the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, that specializes in computer security and murkier, more controversial stuff, such as espionage and cyber attacks. The Unit resembles the National Security Agency (NSA) in the U.S. So it’s not that surprising that Unit 8200 and the IDF would give rise to clever, interesting tech startups. What’s remarkable is how Israel has turned its soldiers into entrepreneurs. Today, Israel has about 5,500 startups, and it added 1,400 new ones just last year. It has become a world leader not just in security but in chip, printing, biotech, and corporate software, as well. In this episode of Hello World Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ashlee Vance goes to Israel to discover how the IDF became such an efficient technology engine.

Watch more from ‘Hello World’:

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