Mexico Adds More Israeli Surveillance Platforms
Mexico needs surveillance, and many of its key surveillance assets are coming from Israel. Its E-2C Hawkeye AWACS aircraft were bought used from the Israeli Air Force. A recent $25 million purchase from Elbit Systems added cheaper long-endurance aerial surveillance via Hermes 450 mid-tier UAVs, as well as hand-launched Skylark-I mini-UAVs for troops on the ground. Now Aeronautics Defense Systems of Yavneh, Israel will be selling Mexico’s federal police over $22 million worth of its Skystar 300 surveillance aerostats and small Orbiter UAVs.
These UAVs and aerostats will be needed. Mexico doesn’t make the headlines very often, but the country faces what counter-terrorist analyst John Robb has called a growing “open source insurgency” of narco-traffickers and some leftist groups. The violence associated with “The Cartel War” has reportedly claimed almost 8,000 lives in the last 2 years. It is starting to create ripples of concern in many American Hispanic communities, who still have considerable family ties in Mexico. It also appears to be prodding the Mexican government into belated force improvements, as the scope of the growing conflict becomes clearer.
With respect to the systems ordered…
The Skystar 300 is a tethered aerostat attached to a mobile trailer, not a powered blimp. Its 30 kg payload includes sophisticated and stabilized day/night cameras that can zoom in on targets of interest, while offering geo-tracking that gives precise coordinates for anything it observes. The aerostat deploys in 20 minutes and can stay aloft at about 1,000 feet for 72 hours, giving it about a 60 km/ 36 mile surveillance radius. A 10-minute helium refill is all the craft needs, before being sent back up.
The Orbiter is described as a “mini-UAV”, but it sits at the high end of that category. Orbiter UAVs are catapult-launched, which ties them to vehicles. They land using a parachute and airbag. Endurance is 3 hours, and its operating radius is up to 40 km. Both are high figures for its category, and its ability to operate up to 18,000 feet is currently unique.
A September 2008 teaming agreement between Textron’s AAI and Aeronatucs DS gave AAI an offering that sits below its popular Shadow 200 tactical UAV, and made AAI the lead for Orbiter marketing activities in the USA. This would include any including “foreign military sales” back to Israel, which could be bought using American aid dollars from a manufacturing line in Hunt Valley, MD. The announcement said that this teaming agreement and manufacturing provisos could be extended to “other countries to be mutually agreed in the future”; it is not known if Mexico falls into that category.