2008: Russia wants to buy UAVs from Israel. Iran wants to buy high-end (S-300)
anti-aircraft missiles from Russia. Israel wants to stop Iran from getting
those Russian missiles. Israel thought they had a deal, whereby they would
provide Russia with some of the most capable UAVs available, and the Russians
would not sell Iran the high performance anti-aircraft missiles. Then came
reports that the Russians had finally agreed to ship Iran the S-300 missile
systems. Russia promptly denied this, sort of.
senior Israeli military commanders were complaining that selling UAVs to Russia
could backfire, as the Russians have been known to steal technology and
secretly sell it to others, or build competing equipment for export sales. But
the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and Mossad (the Israeli CIA), is keen on
arranging a deal with the Russians that would keep the S-300s from getting to
Russia have been haggling over the S-300 purchase for over two years now.
Several Western nations, including the U.S., have been pressuring Russia not to
sell Iran any weapons, even though the S-300s are, technically, not
"offensive" weapons (which several UN embargoes prohibit anyone
shipping to Iran.)
moment, it all comes down to how eager the Russians are to get their hands on
some top-end UAVs. Russia has been building UAVs for several decades, but has
not achieved the kind of performance found in Israeli and American UAVs. One
model the Russians are probably 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).
line of UAVs has been around longer than the Predators, and have a comparable
track record. India and European nations are also considering the Heron TP,
which would be suitable for maritime patrol as well. Thus the Heron TP would be
a low cost competitor to the Global Hawk, which has far more range than most
nations need for their naval reconnaissance aircraft. Best of all, the Heron
line of UAVs has an even better pedigree than U.S. aircraft like the Predator.
lost interest in UAVs after Vietnam, while in Israel, work proceeded. And UAVs
figured prominently in the spectacular Israeli aerial victory over the Bekaa
Valley in 1982. Using UAVs in cooperation with their warplanes, Israel was able
to shut down the Syrian Air Force (and destroy 86 aircraft) in a few days. Israel
pioneered the use of UAVs for real-time surveillance, electronic warfare and
decoys. But in the U.S., there was either no interest or some inexplicably
botched UAV development projects. Americans wondered how the Israelis did it
while the Department of Defense continued to screw up attempts to create useful
with some urging (and ridicule) from Congress, the Department of Defense began
to buy UAVs from Israel. The Navy bought the Israeli Pioneer UAV, which is
still in use. Many of these Israeli UAVs (plus some newly developed U.S. ones)
were used in the 1991 Gulf War. There weren't that many of them, but the army
and Marines noted that the Air Force and Navy were stingy with answering
requests for recon missions. This made the ground troops aware of how they
could create their own Air Force of UAVs. All of a sudden, the Army and Marines
were back in the UAV development business. This time they were serious and a
number of successful UAVs were developed. The Predator entered service in 1995.
Russia is in
a situation similar to that of the United States in the 1970s. The Russian UAVs
have short duration (a few hours) and reliability problems. Israel is offering
to fix that problem, for a price.