Dutch to Rent Israeli UAVs for Afghanistan
Afghanistan has forced a number of participating countries to upgrade their UAV fleets through purchase and rental, and Dutch forces are no exception. They have bought Aladin and Raven mini-UAVs, and a recent announcement indicates that they’re about to retire their old, limited Sperwer-A UAVs as of March 1/09. Instead of buying replacements, they will join the rent-a-UAV trend.
The concept of renting front-line military equipment would have seemed outlandish a very short time ago. Now, UAVs like Boeing’s ScanEagle are rented and operated by contractors on the front lines of battle, Britain has rented Elbit Systems’ mid-size Hermes 450 UAVs until its derivative Watchkeeper system is fielded, and Canada is renting IAI’s large, long-endurance Heron UAVs for use in Afghanistan. P.W. Singer’s recent book Wired for War even discusses examples of human rights groups inquiring about renting or buying UAVs to monitor key conflict zones. Private surveillance UAVs are already operating along the US-Mexican border, and additional examples around the globe seem to be just a matter of time. The times, they are a’ changing.
The Dutch have picked Aeronautics Defense Systems’ Aerostar UAV, and that firm has just confirmed the contract…
The Sperwers have been taken out of service by Canada and Denmark, so their retirement by the Dutch is not a surprise. According to background materials released by the Dutch MvD, the MvD had initially identified a need for 2 ‘air-ground reconnaissance capacities’, one at the tactical level for commanders on the ground, and another at the “operational level” for theater command intelligence. At first, both types of UAV requirements were handled and evaluated separately, and were estimated at less than EUR 25 million each.
Further investigation led to a November 2008 decision that both requirements could be fulfilled in a single platform, under a EUR 25 – 50 million program, if the higher-echelon requirements were relaxed slightly. In truth, finding a system that could meet all of the MvD’s needs is not challenging. Finding a solution that would meet most of these needs provide enough UAVs to supply adequate coverage, and fit within the budget was the challenge.
After issuing an international solicitation through the EU’s European Defence Agency online marketplace, the Dutch concluded that the Israeli firm Aeronatics Defense Systems Ltd. in Yavneh, Israel was the only option that could fit their requirements, which include operating and maintaining the UAVs on the Netherlands’ behalf. This is considered an urgent operational buy, and the MvD intends to sign a contract by the end of January 2009, so that it can begin deployment in March 2009.
March 24/09: Aeronautics Defense Systems confirms the UAV choice, and the contract amount. The 200 million shekel contract (EUR 39 million / $51 million equivalent) will cover a UAV service using Aerostar UAVs, for use in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan.
Israel’s Globes business daily says that support will be provided through a UK security company – which could be the Elbit/Thales UTacS venture that already supports Britain’s Hermes Mk450 Watchkeeper UAVs in theater.
Which UAV? (January 2009)
What the announcement did not specify, was which UAV had been chosen. The translated background document does mention that:
“The UAV system in question was put to use – with success – in support of the Israeli & Turkish armed forces and for Border security in New Mexico.”
Aeronautics DS does offer a medium-sized long-endurance “Dominator” UAV that is comparable to Elbit’s Hermes 450, but that drone’s customer base does not fit the above description.
Aeronautics DS’ most proven system is the Aerostar tactical UAV, which has served with Israeli, American, Angolan, and Turkish forces, along with some African and Asian customers. Aerostar has a very respectable endurance of 12 hours and a ceiling of 18,000 feet, and a maximum 50 kg/ 110 pound payload, which can include both surveillance and targeting capabilities. Its line of sight datalink control range is up to 300 km/ 180 miles, and satellite communication and control capabilities are also an option. The aircraft is 4.5m/ 15 feet long, with a 7.5m/ 25 feet wingspan, and is launched from a runway. While new “tactical UAV” class weapons are currently under development by US NAVAIR, General Dynamics, and Thales, UAVs like the Aerostar are currently seen as too small to mount both weapons and the required sensors to cue them.
A smaller “Aerolight” UAV is also produced by Aeronautics DS, which can be catapult launched or launched from a runway. The catapult capability expands forward deployment options, but the Aerolight’s length and wingspan are only half of the Aerostar’s, its endurance is just 4 hours, its flight ceiling is 10,000 feet, and its maximum payload is just 8 kg/ 18 pounds. Its line-of-sight datalink range is 150 km/ 90 miles, but its lack of a satellite control option would be a grievous handicap in Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, which often blocks line of sight.
It is unlikely that the Aerolight, or any smaller solution, could fit Dutch requirements at both tactical and command levels. Based on the Dutch documents, the UAVs are almost certainly Aerostars.
Additional Readings & Sources
- DID thanks subscriber David Vandenberghe for his assistance, including translation.
- Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd. – Aerostar. See also their YouTube video, which shows civilian as well as military uses.
- Dutch MvD (Jan 12/09) – Inhuur lucht-grondwaarnemingscapaciteit voor ISAF III. See also full document [PDF format, in Dutch]
- Flight International (Jan 18/09) – Israel’s Aeronautics to supply Dutch UAV service