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IAI steps up bid to boost US presence through joint-venture agreements

Partnering Arie Egozi / Tel Aviv

Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) is negotiating joint-venture agreements with US companies in a bid to strengthen its presence in the nation's lucrative unmanned air systems market. It plans to sign an agreement that will allow for joint production and joint investment in new programmes, boosting its prospects of selling new systems to the US armed forces.

IAI has forecast an increase in demand for UAVs in the US military, which acquired its Hunter and Pioneer systems from the 1980s for army and navy use, respectively. It has subsequently failed to sell its more advanced air vehicle designs to the USA, but hopes the future joint venture agreement will enable it to secure fresh orders.

Vitally, the anticipated tie-up would also enable the Israeli air force to purchase Israeli-designed, but US-manufactured UAVs using foreign military financing funds. This would allow the service to meet a crucial part of its plan to dramatically enhance its unmanned system capabilities over the coming years. Its current UAVs played a key role during its Operation Change of Direction conflict with Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon earlier this year (Flight International, 1-7 August).

IAI has a teaming agreement with Europe's EADS, which has already yielded a €40 million ($50.9 million) contract to supply the French air force with medium-altitude, long-endurance Eagle 1 systems developed from the Israeli firm's Heron UAV. The air vehicle has received modifications, including an enlarged nose to accommodate a satellite communications suite, as part of the agreement.

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