Heavy UAV Elbit Systems Hermes 900 is in service with more than 10 countries. Photo Elbit Systems
For many years, Israel has retained its leading position in the world market for unmanned aerial systems for military purposes. Companies of this country develop, manufacture and supply to foreign countries a large number of UAVs of various types, as well as organize licensed production at foreign sites.
According to known data, about 50 Israeli companies operate in the UAV field, from small organizations to large concerns. In total, they offer on the market approx. 160-170 types of unmanned vehicles of all classes. A fifth of these companies, mainly developed and large organizations, are engaged in military drones. Over the past decades, they have brought to the market approx. 70 pieces of equipment.
Through the efforts of its own industry, Israel almost completely covers the needs of its army for UAVs; only selected samples are purchased. The production capacities of large companies are sufficient for quick and complete fulfillment of internal orders, as well as for full-fledged entry into the international market.
Lightweight Elbit Skylark III. Skylark series devices are used in almost 20 countries. Photo Elbit Systems
In recent years, Israeli UAVs have been supplied to more than 50 foreign armies. In terms of total supplies, Israel occupies approx. 40% of the world market, and earlier this figure was much higher. UAVs account for approx. 10% of the country’s total military exports. The main customers at the moment are European countries, which receive more than half of such products. About 30% goes to the Asian army, while other regions receive less than 20% of products.
The main income from the export of UAVs is provided by the sale of ready-made complexes assembled in Israel. The subject of the contracts is the technique of a number of basic classes. Light and ultralight reconnaissance drones, medium vehicles and loitering ammunition are sent abroad.
Azerbaijan should be remembered as a large and profitable customer of Israeli unmanned vehicles. The first orders from this country were received back in 2007-2008, and then new ones appeared more than once. Moreover, until recently, the Azerbaijani army bought UAVs only from Israel. Such cooperation made it possible for 10-12 years to create a fairly large and powerful unmanned aerial fleet.
Cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel began with an agreement for medium-sized UAVs Aeronautics Aerostar and Elbit Hermes 450. In the early and mid-tenties, new contracts followed, providing for the supply of other types of equipment. Over time, all major niches were closed due to the consistent purchase of different types of drones.
British Watchkeeper WK450. UK Department of Defense Photo
Unmanned aerial vehicles from Elbit Systems, IAI and other companies are bought by many countries from all continents. Countries with different industrial potential become clients. These are developing countries that do not have their own aircraft building school, and more developed countries, which consider it optimal to purchase imported equipment instead of creating their own samples.
The list of Israeli UAV buyers is constantly expanding with new countries. So, in December it became known that in 2020 several reconnaissance and strike heavy UAVs Hermes 900 were sent to Morocco. The delivery of equipment took place against the backdrop of a thaw in relations between the two countries, and several months before the resumption of diplomatic relations.
At the request of the customer, Israeli companies are ready to supply not only finished products, but also assembly kits for licensed production. This approach has been used in collaboration with several countries and has led to mutually beneficial results.
In 2007, the Israeli company Elbit Systems and the British Thales UK created a joint venture UAV Tactical Systems, whose task was to release the Watchkeeper WK450 reconnaissance and strike apparatus. The latter was a variant of the Israeli Hermes 450, modified according to the requirements of the UK. The first flight of such a machine took place in 2010, and since 2014, the serial equipment entered the troops.
UAVs of the Azerbaijani army at the parade on December 10, 2020 Photo Bmpd.livejournal.com
The already mentioned Azerbaijan at the beginning of the last decade signed an agreement for the licensed production of several types of UAVs. The Azad Systems plant was built with the participation of Aeronautics and soon mastered the assembly of the Aerostar and Orbiter-2M vehicles. Later, it was possible to increase the degree of localization, as well as to master the assembly of complexes of other types. However, the most complex items were still purchased off-the-shelf.
In 2009, Russia purchased two ready-made IAI Searcher II reconnaissance UAVs from Israel. The machines performed well in tests, as a result of which a licensed production agreement appeared in 2010. The assembly of equipment from imported components was established at the Ural Civil Aviation Plant. In the Russian Air Force, the Israeli Searcher II was named “Outpost”.
As the production of Forposts continued, measures were taken to increase the degree of localization. In 2019, flight tests of the modernized Forpost-R UAV began. It is completely assembled from Russian units and has significant differences in design and functions. There is information about the further development of the project with certain positive consequences.
UAV “Outpost” – licensed version of the IAI Searcher II. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
Simultaneously with “Outpost”, the light reconnaissance UAV “Zastava” was put into production. It was a licensed copy of the Israeli Bird-Eye 400 from IAI. The production volumes of such equipment were insignificant; no attempts were made to improve it. At the same time, “Zastava” allowed to gain experience for the further creation of their own projects of this class.
Licensed production of Israeli UAVs was launched in a number of other countries. In addition, in a number of cases, development companies, together with foreign partners, finalized initial projects. However, not all episodes of such cooperation have reached the actual release of equipment by now. So, the future of licensed production of UAVs in India, Poland and other countries remains uncertain.
Experience and export
Israel currently holds a leading position in the international market for military UAVs. In terms of the number of manufacturers, the range of models and sales volumes, only the United States can compete with Israel in this area. At the same time, in some areas, Israeli industry maintains its lead over the American one.
Several factors underlie these successes. First of all, this is the extensive experience of large Israeli companies. They began research in the field of unmanned aircraft several decades ago, and in the early eighties the first samples entered service. Further work continued with an understandable result. As a result, Israel managed not only to gain the necessary experience, but also to ensure its separation from foreign countries, incl. most industrially developed.
The operator works with the Zastava UAV. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
Using the existing experience and available technologies, at the turn of the nineties and two thousand years, the Israeli industry created a number of successful UAVs, demonstrated them in its army, and also found foreign buyers. The successful operation at home and abroad made additional advertising – and new orders followed.
The presence of a mass of projects of different classes has made its contribution to the overall success. In addition, a flexible approach to cooperation with foreign partners turned out to be important. Israeli companies are ready to finalize projects, issue licenses, etc. In some cases, this also became a competitive advantage.
As a result, Israel was able to occupy about 40% of the world market for military drones. Despite the active development of the UAV direction in the leading countries, one should not expect a major redistribution of the market. At the same time, it should be assumed that in the near future, in the wake of recent conflicts, the demand for unmanned aerial systems will grow again – and Israeli companies will not miss their benefits.