Warplanes: Russia Builds Israeli UAV

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March 5, 2014:   Russia has begun licensed production of the Israeli Searcher 2 UAV. This comes after seven years of negotiations and user trials by Russian troops. 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. In 2012 Searcher 2 was tested in northern Russia during cold weather and performed well despite extremely colder temperatures (especially on the ground, where it got to -30 Centigrade). The Russians knew that the Indians were enthusiastic users of Searcher 2, which India has often operated in the Himalayas during cold weather with no problem. The Russian Air Force now has at least six Russian made Searcher 2s and is expecting to receive a lot more from the Russian factory.

Back in 2004 negotiations to set up an Israeli UAV factory in Russia, as a joint venture, were 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 was some trepidation about transferring those UAV manufacturing techniques 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. It took a while to sort all this out.

Russia first approached Israel to purchase UAVs in 2007. 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 a seven 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.

One model the Russians were also interested in was the Israeli Heron TP UAV. Equipped with a powerful (1,200 horsepower) turbo prop engine, the 4.6 ton aircraft can operate at 14,000 meters (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. 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, at least for the Searcher 2.

 


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