The USA has demanded that Israel scrap a planned upgrade to China's current inventory of Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Harpy anti-radiation drones, sparking a crisis between the US Department of Defense and its Israeli counterpart.

China purchased an undisclosed number of Harpy drones in 1994 and in 2003 contracted with IAI to upgrade the systems, according to US sources. Washington's objection to the deal comes despite the fact that the Harpy does not include any US-produced subsystems.

The current version of the ground-launched Harpy produced by IAI's MBT division flies to a designated area before entering a loitering pattern until its onboard sensor detects an electromagnetic emission. The lethal Harpy then dives to destroy the emitting target, using its 32kg (70lb) warhead.

An improved version of the Harpy will have a datalink, enabling ground forces to allocate the drones to selected targets, and a dual electromagnetic/ electro-optical sensor. IAI's concept is to launch a "squadron" of drones in the direction of a designated area, where the air vehicles will loiter, receiving continued updates about potential targets. The drones will then attack according to operational priority sent from a ground station or a manned aircraft.

In 2002, the Israeli government agreed to pay China $350 million in compensation for the abandonment of its planned sale of IAIP halcon airborne early warning systems after US opposition to the contract. Washington claimed the Phalcon systems could endanger US pilots in any future conflict between China and Taiwan.

Source: Flight International