Russia is to develop a new unmanned air vehicle based on the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Searcher 2 that was built under licence by a local company.
Dubbed Forpost-M, the design will carry some Russian-developed payloads and datalinks. Russian sources say that some local companies have already received work orders to supply the required systems, and indicate that the United Instrument Making Corporation Rostek will be the lead contractor.
Sources say the improved UAV will be able to communicate not only with a ground control station, but directly with other aircraft, including helicopters, enabling their crews to assess information gathered using its sensors and relay real-time data to ground or airborne forces.
In April 2009, Moscow bought its first batch of UAVs from IAI, via a $54 million package including BirdEye 400s and Searcher 2s. Late the same year, it ordered a further 36 aircraft worth $100 million. A third deal, valued at $400 million, was signed in October 2010 with the Israeli company, with UAVs having been assembled in Russia since early 2012 and deliveries to the Russian military starting in 2014.
Russian sources say another deal was signed in late 2015, covering an army order totalling $320 million.
Moscow has made several attempts to buy more advanced UAVs from Israel, but its efforts have been blocked by Washington. The incursion of an Israeli-made UAV into Israeli airspace from inside Syria on 17 July 2016 – believed to have been a Russian-operated Searcher 2 – has provided the US authorities with another reason to block future sales of such equipment to Moscow.
Two Raytheon Patriot surface-to-air missiles were launched at the UAV immediately after it was detected, but both missed their target. A third attempt to shoot it down, this time using an air-to-air missile, also failed.
Tel Aviv has attempted to overturn US opposition to further UAV sales following its improved relations with Moscow, but Washington argues that the war in Syria could result in advanced technologies falling into the hands of so-called Islamic State militants.
IAI says it is "not commenting on contracts and customers".