13 Juni 2010

Jerusalem Blocking Multi-Million Russia Drone Deal

13 Juni 2010
IAI's Heron, the medium range UAV (photo : Militaryphotos)

Move could scupper plans for joint $200 million UAV factory in Russia

The brakes have been put on talks between Israel Aerospace Industries and Russia over sales and the joint production of unmanned aerial vehicles, according to Israeli defense sources who wish to remain anonymous. They say the parties are negotiating to build a plant in Russia for the pilotless aircraft to the tune of $300 million to $400 million, as well as the outright sale of IAI-built drones to Russia.

Recent news reports have said that IAI and Russia are planning a $200 million UAV factory and that the Israeli company plans to sell Russia an unspecified number of UAVs in the wake of its sale about a year ago of three such aircraft to Moscow for around $50 million.

The sources attribute the current backpedaling to hesitation about the deal in the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Ministry's Office, which have yet to give their approval. Washington has also requested clarifications about the deal, which is considered particularly sensitive.

The sensitive part concerns the transfer of technology to Russia, which despite its attempts has failed to crack the secret of building silent UAVs. While no one is talking about giving the Russians the plans for the most advanced pilotless aircraft in the arsenal of the Israel Defense Forces, a deal would represent a technological advance for the Russians. Neither Jerusalem nor Washington wants the technology to end up in the hands of Israel's enemies.

In the background, raising tensions, are reports of talks between Moscow and Tehran over the potential sale of Russian missiles to Iran. On the other hand, the West has an interest in heightening its strategic ties with Russia in the event of a regional confrontation in the future.

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Moscow research institute the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, was quoted last week in Western news reports as saying that Russia stands to buy $12 billion worth of arms from European and Israeli firms, including IAI.

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