By James Drew
The head of Israel Aerospace Industries’ military aircraft division believes its future profits reside in the market for unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV).
However, Shaul Shahar says that it could take 15 to 20 years for militaries to begin giving serious consideration to replacing manned platforms for the combat role.
Shahar says the market is moving towards combat UAVs, and eventually most major militaries will employ a 50-50 mix of manned and unmanned fighters. He believes that will be where most funding is available in future and IAI is keen to grab a piece of it.
“Combat UAV, we’ll be there for sure,” Shahar says. “Now, the only question is when, and the when depends on many, many things.”
Shahar’s comments come after the US relaxed its policy on the export of armed UAVs like the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Predator, giving its domestic suppliers access to more markets on a case-by-case basis.
IAI will compete in the US, Shahar says, but he expects there will be far more business opportunities elsewhere.
“They are not going to replace all combat jets in the world, but as we advance the portion will be higher all the time,” he says.
Future combat UAVs should be fast and carry a lot of weapons, and they may even be like flying bomb trucks that operate alongside manned aircraft. “This is one of the configurations you’re looking at,” Shahar says. “Not every UCAV will be an F-35 without the pilot.”