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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel plans to expedite production of unmanned aerial vehicles for Russia after Moscow announced last week it had decided to halt the sale of advanced MiG-31 fighter jets to Syria, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Under the $50 million deal, signed in April, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will supply Russia with some of its second-tier UAVs, including the Bird-Eye 400 mini-UAV, the I-view MK150 tactical UAV and the Searcher Mk II medium-range UAV. This is the first Israeli sale of military platforms to Russia.
Officials said delivery of the UAVs would begin by the end of the year.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin is expected to visit Israel in the coming weeks to get a look at production. At a later stage, the deal is likely to include the sale of IAI's long-range Heron, which is capable of remaining airborne for over 50 hours at altitudes of up to 35,000 feet.
Russia's interest in Israeli drones surfaced in late 2008 following the war in Georgia, during which Tbilisi operated Israeli-made drones. At the time, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, visited Moscow and received assurances that Russia would not sell the S300 defense missile system to Iran, and would consider halting the sale of MiG-31s to Syria.
Russia was supposed to sell eight MiG-31s to Syria, according to a report in the Kommersant newspaper. The $500m. deal was signed in early 2007, but work on the project was halted in April.
The contract was supposed to be the first export deal for the MiG-31E, a heavy twin-engine interceptor capable of flying at nearly three times the speed of sound and simultaneously firing at several targets at ranges of up to 180 km.
The aircraft was designed in the 1980s for tackling low-flying cruise missiles and other difficult targets. It was considered a key component of Russia's defense against a possible US attack and remains the backbone of the country's manned air defenses.
Syria is slated to receive a number of MiG-29M fighters, a version that features significantly improved range, has better radar and carries a broader array of weapons, compared to the basic MiG-29 model. It was not clear whether this deal was also halted.
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