Israel continues to lead TUAV sector

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Israel was the pioneer for Tactical UAV operations and remains an operational and industry benchmark for new players in this sector.
It's no coincidence that two of the three Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) systems shortlisted for Army's Joint Project 129 were Israeli. Nor that the first UAV system which the ADF took into Iraq and Afghanistan, in late-2005, was the lightweight Israeli Skylark system, manufactured by Elbit.

As more and more defence forces embrace the concept of Network Centric Warfare (NCW) UAVs are making a critical contribution to situational awareness and force protection by enhancing their Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities.

Israeli UAV and sensor payload manufacturer Elbit estimates the global Tactical UAV (TUAV) market is worth about US$5.7 billion over the next decade. The US market intelligence firm Frost + Sullivan, in its 2005 report The Markets for Military UAVs in Asia and Asia Pacific, estimated the regional market alone market is closer to US$7.4 billion by 2014, with the majority of UAVs employed in maritime patrol and tactical land surveillance.

Frost + Sullivan says, "TUAVs will be the largest segment of the market with a 43 percent share, medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAVs will be 32 percent, high altitude long endurance (HALE) UAVs with 13 percent, and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAV systems making up the rest of the market at 11 percent."

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, in its aerospace industry action plan, identified the UAV sector as an area where targeted investment can help grow local industry capabilities. But it's a measure of Israel's dominance of the Tactical UAV market worldwide (and probably also its relative openness in dealing with Intellectual Property issues) that most defence forces and UAV R&D and manufacturing organisations seeking to break into this market are more likely to seek partners among Israel's major players, rather than those of, say, the USA or Europe.

That's true also for established Western defence manufacturers: for example, one of the shortlisted contenders for JP129 was Thales, offering the same Elbit Hermes 180 and 450 tactical UAVs that the UK Ministry of Defence selected in 2004 for the British Army's Watchkeeper program. Elbit was a joint venture partner with Thales to bid for both the Watchkeeper and JP 129 programs.

The second JP129 contender was Boeing Australia Ltd, which teamed with IAI Malat to offer the latter's I-View 250 tactical UAV. In spite of the fact that the I-View 250 had not yet entered production, and the third contender was American firm AAI, teamed with BAE Systems Australia to offer the US Army's proven and successful Shadow 200 tactical UAV, Australia selected Boeing and IAI Malat.

Why? Because the technical challenge is shifting from building the UAVs themselves and their sensor payloads; the real military pay-off comes increasingly from integrating the UAVs and the intelligence and surveillance data they produce into the user's own concept of operations. Boeing Australia and IAI Malat were able to demonstrate convincingly that the I-View 250-based proposal met the broader NCW and 'connectivity' requirements of the Australian Army.

Not only does the I-View family have a proven suite of command and control ground stations and communications links, the Boeing-IAI team offered to tailor a solution specifically for Australian requirements. Boeing Australia employed its Systems Analysis Laboratory (SAL) in Brisbane to analyse and model the Australian Army's ISR needs and the communications architecture and interfaces required to disseminate surveillance information quickly to the users.

IAI has also developed in-house capabilities and products to support the C2 needs of its customers. The company has established a dedicated division called MAGNET, to facilitate C2 activities for UAV operators using a Multi-Mission Joint Operations Control Centre which it has named TWISTER.

According to an Australian UAV industry source, the Boeing-IAI approach builds on a capability the Israelis have been developing since as early as Six Day war of 1967. During the 1982 invasion of Lebanon the IDF's force of UAVs came into their own and proved a revelation to other observers: IAI's Scout and Tadiran's Mastiff UAVs provided real-time TV and infra red images and video direct to operators embedded in army unit and formation headquarters. The contribution they made to the IDF's situational awareness was critical, and the number of defence forces around the world which has adopted UAVs since 1982 has grown exponentially - the first and still the most significant of these was the Pentagon.

IAI was one of the pioneers in military UAV applications and, with a UAV-related annual turnover estimated at US$200-300 million a year, or about 10 per cent of its overall business, claims it is still the world leader in accumulated flight hours and number of customers worldwide. Its products are developed from combat experience and are used extensively in Israel which operates perhaps the most diverse fleet of UAV types.

Strangely, for a high-technology defence force, Australia has been very slow to adopt Tactical UAVs, though other Asia-Pacific defence forces have embraced them very quickly. IAI says the technical and operational synergies between its UAV platforms and ground stations may be the basis for future development of UAV industry capabilities in Australia. The RAAF is currently in the process of choosing the candidates for its HALE/MALE surveillance UAV program, Phase 1 of project Air 7000: IAI's Heron and Eagle family of large UAVs will likely be contenders for this project, the company says.

While the USA is starting now to dominate the HALE and MALE sectors of the surveillance UAV market, at the tactical level Israeli firms still reign supreme with a product range embracing both platforms and payloads.

IAI Malat, for example, builds air vehicles and a large variety of payloads. The most common TUAV surveillance payloads are electro-optic and infra red sensors - IAI's most popular offering is the MOSP (Multi-purpose Optical Stabilized Payload), which combines TV and infra red cameras and a laser rangefinder and target designator in a single, lightweight package just 35cm across. The Israeli defence force has ordered over 500 MOSPs for its own UAVs and this will equip Australia's I-View 250s.

More compact EO payloads are manufactured by IAI's TAMAM Division - the POP, Mini-POP and Micro-POP. And IAI-ELTA Group specialises in UAV payloads for other missions, such as different types of radar, and Electronic Warfare and surveillance payloads such as IUELIS - the Integrated UAV ESM/ELINT System. IAI says its payloads are designed for its whole range of UAV platforms, and have the advantage of being integrated in-house, offering a turn-key operational solution from a single source.

Elbit, another UAV platform builder, also has a subsidiary, Elop Electro-Optic Industries Ltd, which manufactures airborne electro-optic, infra red and TV sensors for manned aircraft, helicopters and UAVs. Elop manufactures the CoMPASS family of stabilized, multi-sensor Line-Of-Sight, surveillance systems which equips most variants of the Hermes 180 and 450 UAVs, including those operated by the US Department of Customs and Homeland Security since 2004 to patrol the Mexican border under the Arizona Border Control Initiative.

The CoMPASS family payloads include a third generation FLIR, eyesafe laser rangefinder/diode pumped advanced designator, and night vision goggle-compatible laser target illuminator, fully integrated on board various Hermes UAV models. CoMPASS payloads are used for day and night observation, scanning, tracking, range measurement, aiming and targeting of naval, land and air targets.

And it is that full-spectrum competency, according to one Australian UAV industry source, which provides the Israeli UAV industry with its market lead.

"It's all about time on station," the source told ADM. "The Israelis have been involved in UAVs for over 30 years - probably since the 1967 Arab Israeli war, and certainly since 1973. Until fairly recently they had clocked up ten times the number of UAV operational hours of any other military UAV operator, and arguably their C4ISR and C2 interfaces are still the best in the world."

Israeli companies understand platforms and propulsion; payloads and communications suites are getting lighter and more versatile; and the companies understand user requirements extremely well, the source added.

Operators such as the USA, Canada, France and Germany may now be approaching Israel's cumulative total of operational UAV hours flown, especially since the Bosnia and Iraq campaigns of recent years. But the Israeli UAV industry is tight-knit: the large platform and sensor manufacturers like IAI and Elbit stimulate and indirectly support smaller firms like EO/IR sensor manufacturer Controp, while the pace of UAV development in Israel constantly refreshes the industry's technology and skills base.

As the Asia-Pacific's national aerospace industries start to address the challenges and opportunities represented by UAVs, their external reference remains Israel.

By Gregor Ferguson
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