In the 2008 war with Georgia, Russia found its military drones and surveillance ability badly outclassed by the Israeli drones used the Georgians. Without a domestic drone programme capable of competing with the available foreign technology, the Russians decided to negoitiate with Israel for up to date drones. Thus Israel managed to sell drones to the Georgians, and then provoke even more sales to the enemies of the Georgians.
In 2009, the Russians bought 12 small drones from the Israelis, 2 Searcher drones, 8 MK 150, and two Bird Eye, and were continuing to negotiate. This from Defence Update:http://defense-update.com/features/2009/april/israeli_russian_uav_130409.html
“While the Hermes 450 is the mainstay of Israel’s tactical UAS forces and has provided the baseline for the British Watchkeeper UAV program, the Searcher II is considered less sensitive, as it has already withdrawn from active service with the IDF and has been offered in the surplus market. The Bird-Eye 400 could also be considered as non critical technology, as it is not used by the IDF. The I-View, previously selected for Australia’s tactical UAV program (which was recently cancelled) is also looking for a new start and Russia could become important for the system’s future.”
In June, 2010, major negotiations between Israel and Russia over a plan to build drone factories in Russia stalled. The project would have cost between $300 million and $400 million. This is in line with the strategy voiced recently by the IAI chairman that Israel would build factories to produce drones in situ, rather than exporting the physical hardware. Apparently the foreign ministry and the Prime Minister’s office balked at providing Russia with advanced technology it didn’t have, specifically the ability to build very silent drones. (Source)
The Russians hoped to buy 50 drones, mostly Herons from Israeli Aerospace Industries. They openly said they would reverse engineer these drones, to provide updated technology for their existing drones. By September the plan had changed, and the Russians and Israelis had agreed that Russia would buy 36 drones at a cost of $100 million. And the deal to build Israeli drones in Russia was back on the table, with the details to be hammered out.
In this deal, the Israelis drones would be built by the Russian company Oboronprom, at a helicopter manufacturing plant in Tatarstan, using Israeli parts. The market for the drones would be civilian. The Russians would pay $280 million up front and the remainder when the components are delivered.
Other Russian agencies are trying to buy Israeli drones. The Russian FSB was negotiating to buy its own drones for surveillance purposes, having failed to find a domestic source. Their choice was a drone supplied by Aeronautic Defence Systems. But by September 2010 the FSB declared itself satisfied with the domestic UAV choices.
Clearly the Israelis have multiple objectives dealing with the Russian. Not only is Russia a huge potential customer, but the deals give Israelis leverage to influence Russian arms sales to Israel’s enemies.
In September, the Israelis threatened once again to derail the joint production deal, in an attempt to persuade Russia not to sell Yakhont naval missiles to Syria. In October, at least one source claimed that the $400 million contract had been signed. No other details appear to have emerged.
Defence Daily News has a lengthy summary of these interactions.
In September 2010 it was announced that 50 Russian servicemen were being trained to operate the 12 Israeli drones so far delivered.