Warplanes: Russia And The Israel Clause

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May 7, 2020: Since 2015, when Russia got involved in the Syrian Civil War, numerous different Russian UAVs have shown up, used by Russian and Syrian forces. Two Russian UAVs have not appeared in Syria; the Zastava and Forpost. What these two have in common is that they are both Israeli and built under license in Russia. Apparently that license includes the understanding that Russia will not use these UAVs in Syria or any nation near Israel. That could cause confusion not to mention embarrassment if either of these UAVs were captured and used by enemies of Israel. This would include Islamic terrorists and Russian ally Syria, which has been an enemy of Israel for over 70 years. In contrast, Russia and Israel have always been on good terms and are major trading partners with annual imports and exports totaling about $5 billion. Ukraine became independent in 1991 and established trade relationships with Israel which vary from half a billion to a billion dollars a year. For both Russia and Ukraine the trade includes Israeli military equipment.

Despite these complicated relationships the Israeli Zastava and Forpost UAVs have been seen frequently in Ukraine, which Russia invaded in 2014. Russian forces are still active in eastern Ukraine where Ukrainian forces frequently see the Zastava UAV and have shot down several of them.

Russia was slow to accept the usefulness of UAVs and, when they did, the Russians turned to Israel. 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 since the 1990s, as a result of firms in both countries developing new technologies and manufacturing techniques that overcame many of the problems that long crippled 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 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 also manufactures the Israeli Bird-Eye 400 under license as the Zastava. 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/ Zastava 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 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.

In 2014 Russia began licensed production of the Israeli Searcher 2 UAV (as the Russian Forpost). This came 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 minus 30 degrees Centigrade). In 2016 Israel suspended the Russian Searcher 2 license, apparently because of accusations that Russia had violated the terms. That issue was resolved and Russia now manufactures all the Searcher 2 components including a new Russia developed surveillance system equal to the high-tech one Israel refused to include. Even with all those Russian components there is no mistaking the Israeli origins of the new Russian Forpost-M model.

There is also no mistaking the change in Russian attitudes towards military UAVs. In 2011 the Russian military had 180 UAVs. By 2017 they had over 2,000 and now it is closer to 3,000.

 


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