Sale of UAVs by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries reportedly worth some $50 million.
By YAAKOV KATZ
Israel's decision to sell advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to Russia was made after Moscow gave assurances it would not transfer the technology to Iran or Syria and will suspend the sale of anti-aircraft systems to these countries, defense officials told The Jerusalem Post.
On Friday, the Russian news agencies revealed that Moscow had signed a deal with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to purchase UAVs, after its own unmanned drones performed poorly during its war with Georgia in August.
This is the first sale of Israeli military hardware to Russia. Before agreeing to it, Israel needed to receive permission from the United States.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said the military has signed a contract to buy an unspecified number of pilotless drones from an Israeli company he did not identify, state-run RIA-Novosti and ITAR-Tass reported.
"I was in Israel and even operated one," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying.
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, paid a visit to Moscow and reportedly received assurances that Russia would not sell the S300 defense missile system to Iran, a move that would severely impair any Israeli effort to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.
The S-300 is one of the most advanced multi-target anti-aircraft missile systems in the world, with a reported ability to track up to 100 targets simultaneously while engaging up to 12 at the same time. It has a range of about 200 kilometers and can hit targets at altitudes of 90,000 feet.
Iran already has TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles from Russia.
Israeli defense officials said Saturday that IAI would sell Russia -in a first stage of the $50 million deal - 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.
The officials said that it was possible that the deal would include - at a later stage - the sale of IAI's long-range Heron, which is capable of staying in the air for over 50 hours and at altitudes of up to 35,000 feet.
Popovkin, who is in charge of procurement, joked - in reference to Israeli concerns that the technology would make its way to Iran - that "as for the Israeli pilotless aircraft, we will work on them like the Chinese do" - a suggestion that China uses military technology it acquires from other nations to improve its own capabilities.
Russia's decision to purchase the IAI-made drones is a major marketing victory for IAI, which faced heavy competition from Elbit on the Russia deal. The Elbit-made Hermes-450 drones were used by Georgia during the war against Russia.
Popovkin said Russia had used a drone called the Tipchak toward the end of the conflict over Georgia's separatist South Ossetia region, but it had "very many problems," RIA-Novosti reported.
"You could hear it flying from 100 kilometers away," RIA-Novosti quoted Popovkin as saying.
And because of flaws in the system that is supposed to identify it to Russian forces as friendly, it was hit by both Georgian and Russian fire, he said.
"It returned all shot up," Popovkin was quoted as saying.
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