U.S., Israel Partner to Advance Tunnel Detection Technology

October 1, 2015
By George I. Seffers
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The United States and Israel are partnering to develop technology to detect and destroy tunnels, which pose a serious threat to both countries, says Keith Webster, director of international cooperation, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

“I’m personally spearheading an effort with Israel on accelerated research and technology solutions specific to tunnel detection and destruction,” Webster reports.

He accompanied Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, on a visit to Israel, where U.S. and Israeli officials met under unusual circumstances. “As a matter of fact, we had a courtesy call with the Israeli ministry of defense in the bomb shelter at the Ministry of Defense headquarters,” Webster recalls. “Two hours after the military aircraft, with us on it, left the air space, [Israel] initiated an invasion into Gaza. What we learned from Israel was a significant, insidious threat posed by the aggressive tunneling activity of Hamas. They will pop up into people’s yards and houses and take people or kill people.”

As a result, tunneling activities have become a major concern for Israeli officials. “Their military units have high confidence in what is in front of them on the border, but what worries them the most is someone popping up out of a tunnel or hole in the field behind them. This is a very big issue, and this was one of the driving factors behind them invading Gaza. They had intelligence on where some tunnels were, and they went in to destroy them,” Webster says. “What I walked away with was a profound sense that if we could accelerate the research [for tunnel detection and destruction], we can help bring solutions not only to Israel but to the United States—we have our own issues.”

U.S. concerns include homeland security and the potential use of tunnels by future enemies. “Warfare through tunnels has been going on for centuries, so this is not new. We, of course, have our issues on the border. That’s well understood,” Webster indicates.

Tunnel detection can be complex. “There’s no one solution set. Geological formations are different depending on where you are in the world and where you are just in the United States—even in Israel. The north [of Israel] is geologically different from the south, so what works in the south may not work in the north and vice versa. You have to bring multiple technologies to bear on this issue,” Webster concludes.

For more from Webster, see this month's story, Operation Cooperation: U.S. Defense Officials Intend to Expand Asia-Pacific Partnerships.

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