"It's like winning the Oscars in the mini-UAV market," Aeronautics Ltd. told "Globes" about the company's $30 million contract to supply hundreds of UAVs to the Finnish Army.
"This is the most expensive and expansive mini-UAV deal every made outside the US, and it belongs to us, " Aeronautics VP Danny Ashchar. He and his team demonstrated the Orbiter UAV's capabilities over six months at sites across Finland. They showed Finnish Army officers that the UAV's electric motor can cope with the country's extreme cold - minus 20 degrees Celsius. The team demonstrated that the Orbiter can fly and photograph day and night, while dealing with Finland's high winds.
The Finns already operate the Ranger mini-UAV, procured from Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) 15 years ago, via a Swiss company. The deal with Aeronautics will enable the Finnish Army to renew their UAV fleet within two years, and the Orbiter will carry out missions over the next two decades.
The Finnish Army is due to procure 30-45 systems, each of which includes a mobile command and control post, which can be deployed quickly in the field, a video communications unit, and four flight instruments.
The Orbiter has a three-meter wingspan, weighs nine kilograms and has a four-hour endurance. Its payload weighs just over one kilogram.
Aeronautics says that the Orbiter is mainly designed for visual intelligence missions for tactical units, special forces, and inland security and police units. The Orbiter's camera that will be supplied to the Finnish Army is manufactured by Aeronautics unit Controp, and by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. and can spot and identify targets and monitor them.
Just two operators
Another advantage that the Finns took into account is the Orbiter's simple operation, which requires only two operators who undergo a few weeks training. The Orbiter is launched from a launcher and lands using an air cushion to minimize the shock possible damage to the UAV from rough terrain. Nonetheless, the Orbiter suffers from heavy wear and tear and requires intensive maintenance compared with larger UAVs that use landing gear to land on runways.
Three of the nine companies in the Finnish Army UAV tender were Israeli: Bluebird Aero Systems Ltd., an Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT) and Innocon Ltd. consortium together with Finnish defense contractor Patria. Aeronautics and Bluebird were the finalists, and Elbit Systems was in third place, highlighting Israel's leadership in the global unmanned vehicle industry.
Aeronautics' Finnish deal is partly due to politics. Finland is a signatory to the Ottawa Convention that bans the development, production, and use of antipersonnel landmines. The convention mandates that Finland remove landmines laid down during the Cold War. Foregoing landmines requires the Finns to procure alternative defense and warning means. This includes upgrading the firepower of the army's artillery and upgrading the reconnaissance and warning systems, a key component of which is the Orbiter mini-UAV.
"The Finnish Army recently published a tender to install unusual movement sensors in the field," said a well-informed source. "We can assume that Israeli companies have shown interest, and they have something to offer. The Finns appreciate Israeli technology, which is seen in their procurement of Rafael's Spike antitank missile and Tadiran communications systems from Elbit Systems."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 8, 2012
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