June 16, 2010: Negotiations to set up an Israeli UAV factory in Russia, as a joint venture, has been stalled over potential problems with the transfer of UAV technology to Russia. The U.S. and Israel have been most successful in developing efficient UAVs in the last few decades, as a result of firms in both countries developing new technologies and manufacturing techniques that overcame many of the problems that hamper UAVs designed in Russia, China and many other countries. While UAVs are basically low-tech, putting them together so that they are effective and reliable has proved to be quite difficult. So there is some trepidation in transferring those technologies to Russia, as the Russians might in turn transfer that tech, or high-grade UAVs, to countries like Iran, China, Syria or North Korea.
All this comes three years after Russia first approached Israel to purchase UAVs. That resulted in Russia buying over fifty aircraft, including the Bird-Eye 400, I-View MK150 and Searcher 2. The Bird-Eye 400 is a 4 kg/9 pound micro-UAV with a maximum endurance of 80 minutes, max ceiling of 320 meters/1,000 feet and can operate 15 kilometers from the operator. It is mainly for the use of small infantry units. The I-View MK150 is a 250 kg/550 pound aircraft with an 7 hour endurance, max altitude of 5,500 meters/17,000 feet and can operate up to 150 kilometers from the operator. It can carry a 20 kg/44 pound payload, which enables day and night vidcams. It can take off using an airfield, or from a truck mounted launcher. It can land on an airfield or via parachute. It is usually employed to support brigades. The Searcher 2 is a half ton aircraft with an endurance of 20 hours, max altitude of 7,500 meters/23,000 feet and can operate up to 300 kilometers from the operator. It can carry a 120 kg/264 pound payload. This is closer to the U.S. Predator, and usually supports a division or brigade.
One model the Russians are also interested in is the Israeli Heron TP UAVs. Equipped with a powerful (1,200 horsepower) turbo prop engine, the 4.6 ton aircraft can operate at 45,000 feet. That is, above commercial air traffic, and all the air-traffic-control regulations that discourage, and often forbid, UAV use at the same altitude as commercial aircraft. The Heron TP has a one ton payload, enabling it to carry sensors that can give a detailed view of what's on the ground, even from that high up. The endurance of 36 hours makes the Heron TP a competitor for the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper (or Predator B). This is one UAV the Israelis are reluctant to part with, especially to Syria or Iran. The Israelis also don't want hostile nations to know any details of how the Heron TP operates.
With this $50 million purchase of Israeli UAVs, the Russians got some hands-on experience with the best stuff out there, and their engineers got a close look at how competitive UAVs are put together. Russia has been building UAVs for several decades, but has not achieved the kind of performance found in Israeli and American UAVs. Apparently, a close look at the Israeli UAVs persuaded the Russians that they would have a hard time just stealing the technology. So now they are, in effect, offering to buy the design and production technology.