May 3, 2010: Russia is now seeking to persuade Israeli UAV manufacturers to build their aircraft in Russia, as a joint venture. This comes about two years after Russia first approached Israel to purchase UAVs. Last year, Russia placed an order for over fifty aircraft, including the Bird-Eye 400, I-View MK150 and Searcher 2. The Bird-Eye 400 is a nine pound micro-UAV with a maximum endurance of 80 minutes, max ceiling of 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 550 pound aircraft with an 7 hour endurance, max altitude of 17,000 feet and can operate up to 150 kilometers from the operator. It can carry a 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 23,000 feet and can operate up to 300 kilometers from the operator. It can carry a 264 pound payload. This is closer to the U.S. Predator, and usually supports a division or brigade.
With this $50 million purchase of Israeli UAVs, the Russians get some hands on experience with the best stuff out there, and their engineers get 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. What worries the Israelis most is not Russia getting and using this technology, but their passing it on to Russian arms customers like Iran and Syria. So the Russians will probably be offered the joint venture deal only if Iran and Syria get less access to Russian weapons.
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.