Israel-based Elbit Systems could launch two new unmanned air vehicles to challenge in markets now dominated by the General Atomics Predator B and Israel Aerospace Industries Heron TP.
Elbit executives in January will begin evaluating whether to develop a new UAV for maritime patrol and another platform for what the company calls the "high-medium altitude/long-endurance" mission, says Haim Kellerman, co-general manager of the unmanned aircraft systems division.
General Atomics' Predator B
The evaluation will begin even as Elbit's largest UAV, the Hermes 900, continues flight testing after achieving its first take-off
on 9 December.
But both new platforms under consideration would be in at least one size class larger than the 952kg (2,100lb) Hermes 900, which is itself a growth version of the 450kg Hermes 450.
"It's actually a decision the company needs to make if we want to going to larger platforms," Kellerman says.
If Elbit approves both projects, the company would look to build upon the technology and design of the proven Hermes family of UAVs, whose avionics and mission management systems are not limited by the size of the vehicle, Kellerman says.
In the maritime patrol class, Elbit is considering platforms ranging in weight between 2,250kg and 2,700kg. This would place such a UAV in a class between General Atomics' 1,450kg Sky Warrior and the 4,500kg-class of the Predator B and Heron TP.
Previously, Elbit had proposed a 1,750kg-class, twin-engined UAV for maritime patrol called the Hermes 1500. Elbit is not continuing to market the Hermes 1500, but could use the experience with a twin-engine configuration for future platforms, Kellerman says.
US and Israeli UAV manufacturers have been focusing on the maritime patrol market to sustain the explosive growth of demand for such aircraft in recent years. General Atomics in early December unveiled the Guardian UAV, a maritime patrol variant of the Predator B.
Meanwhile, IAI earlier this year demonstrated the Heron TP as a maritime patrol aircraft for US Southern Command, which co-ordinates US military policy and operations in Central and South America.