Posts Tagged Russia

Elbit scores on Israeli missile hysteria

The recent Libyan revolution has had unexpected benefits for Elbit Systems, the giant Israeli arms company, while making the Israeli repression of Gaza more difficult.

Gangs of smugglers apparently looted Libyan government arms stores during the upheaval and made off with quantities of surface to air missiles sold by Russia to the Qaddafi regime. These might include SA-18 or SA-24 Grinch missiles, made in Russia. These apparently were sold to Libya outside the international arms control system (unsurprisingly).

According to Israeli sources some of these have made their way to Hamas, sparking a wave of hysteria in Israel.

The upshot of this perceived threat is that Elbit Systems has sold many units of its ‘C-Music’ system for protecting large aircraft from small surface to air missile systems known as ‘man pads’. C-Music uses a laser to ‘defeat’ the incoming missile. Military planes already have similar systems. C-Music is a version for commercial airliners, which is similar to one Elbit supplies for military aircraft.

After selling as many as 100 units for Israeli airliners, Elbit Systems is offering its system to the international market. At a cost of $1 million to $1.5 million per plane, that’s $100-150 million in sales for Elbit, not counting possible international sales. (Elbit states that its contract with the Israeli government for fitting commercial airliners with the system is for $76 million).

Despite the hysteria in Israel, there hasn’t been an instance of one of these missiles being used since 2002, when al Qaeda fired at an Israeli airliner and missed. Despite Israeli claims there isn’t evidence that Hamas or other factions would use the missiles against civilian airliners. Security officials point out that missiles of this sort are widely available from sources other than the chaotic Libyan aftermath.

The hysteria generated promises to deliver Elbit a ready market however, demonstrating how the excesses of the arms trade (eg Russia selling missiles to Qaddafi) leads to profits and proliferation of weaponry in an adjacent part of the world.

The flap has benefits for the Netanyahu government as well, which returns attention to the security needs of Israel rather than its ongoing repression and colonisation in Palestine.

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Georgia-Israeli Relations Go Into Reverse

Prior to 2008, Georgia and Israel had warm relations, said to be strengthened by Jewish Georgian politicians that had strong ties to Israel. Israel made a large arms sale to Georgia, but cancelled much of it when Russia threatened to ship arms to Israel’s mideast enemies.  Since the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, relations between the two countries have continued to sour. Although Georgia is a small country it is strategically important, and what has been happening is an critical part of the geo political manuevering in the region.

This analysis by Michael Hikari Cecire in Eurasia Review covers all the bases.

The intrigue surrounding Georgia-Israel relations just got even more interesting. This is not in reference to the Rony Fuchs trial and conviction or even the recently-leveled allegation by Israeli defense manufacturer Elbit Systems that the Georgian government owes them USD $100 million for unmanned drones it acquired. Rather, the latest news is that Global CST, an Israeli security services firm that once had training contracts with the Georgian military prior to the August 2008 war, looks to be hunting for contracts with the de facto Abkhazian government. (Read the remainder here) 

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Elbit Systems Sues Georgia

Elbit Systems has announced that it is suing the government of Georgia for recovery of $100 million unpaid following an arms deal. It is suing in the High Court of Justice in the UK.

Georgia is believed to have purchased about 4o Hermes 450 drones, of which between three and seven were shot down in a conflict with Russia in 2008. These are probably the arms allegedly not paid for by Georgia, although various reporters haven’t been successful in getting Elbit to confirm this.

Relations between Israel and Georgia appear to have deteriorated sharply in recent years. At one point Israel was going to sell Georgia $500 million in arms, but withdrew most of these when Russia threatened to arm Israel’s arch enemy Iran. Then Georgia used its Israeli drones in a war with Russia.

Following the war, impressed with the Israeli drones, Russia started making overtures to Israel to acquire Israeli drone technology.

There were several figures in the Georgian government with strong ties to Israel, but it isn’t clear where they stand with Israel at this point.

Georgia recently convicted an Israeli businessman of bribery and sentenced him to jail and a colleague to a large fine. The businessman claimed that it was a plot to make him cancel his multi million dollar claim against the Georgian government. The conviction, which is not likely to be the final disposition, is the culmination of a long series of charges and countercharges which has wracked relations between Georgia and Israelis, even drawing in Israeli President Shimon Peres, who phoned the Georgian President to ensure that the Israelis were treated well.

There are claims that Russia has pressured Israel not to sell further arms to Georgia, in return for Russia not arming Israel’s key enemies. Apparently this would not preclude Israeli companies from selling small arms to Georgia’s Interior Ministry.

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Canadian Using Russian Helicopters in FATA??

Canada has been leasing Russian Mi-17 helicopters in Afghanistan, and doing so outside the normal procurement process.

Thomas E Ricks, in Foreign Policy Magazine, speculates that this is so that Canadian forces can be flown across the Pakistani frontier into the Frontier areas, without arousing special attention, as Pakistani forces use the same helicopter. ‘Starbuck’, a commenter, suggests that the Canadian military is leasing the Russian helicopters because they are training Afghan forces, who are more likely to be using Russian helicopters.

This more recent story from the CBC doesn’t mention the FATA possibility but focusses on why Canada doesn’t buy helicopters from Russia, rather than the more expensive ones from the USA.

This article in Canadian American Strategic Review suggests that the idea of leasing Russian helicopters had been around for several years, due to the availability of the helicopters, their low cost, and the proximity of the manufacturing plant and parts supply to Afghanistan. Mi-17 helicopters cost one fifth the price of alternate Cormorant helicopters, and one tenth the price of Chinooks.

This article reports the announcement of the earlier lease of Russian Mi-8 helicopters in 2008. These were commercially available Russian helicopters (the Mi-17 is an ‘export’ version of the Mi-8).

Incredibly, the original lease involved the use of Russian pilots some of whom had piloted helicopters during the Russion occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

It was reported in November, 2008, that the US forces in Afghanistan had purchased dozens of the Russian helicopters, from Rosoboronexport.


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Israel Sell Drones To Russia, Building Leverage

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:

“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.

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Drones Often Violate Airspace

Drones give nations impunity to overfly other nations air space.

Surprisingly, many states have been overflying their neighbour’s territory with some level of impunity. Israel has overflown Lebanon, and left its drone there for many hours, before departing. Hizbollah has flown drones many times over northern Israel, to the embarrassment of the Israeli military. In 2006 the Israelis shot down at least two Hezbollah drones.

Georgia has overflown South Ossetia, which it claims, but which is controlled  by Russia. Here is a video of a Russian MIG shooting down a Georgian UAV, apparently over South Ossetia in 2008.

The US regularly overflies Pakistan with drones, and indeed launches deadly attacks from them. At least two US drones have been shot down recently over North Waziristan.

In 2009 the US shot down its own out of control Predator drone before it entered Tajikistan.

Iran has overflown Iraq, and had at least one drone shot down by US forces. US forces claimed the trespass was intentional, Iranian and Iraqi officials claimed it was an accident.

Why are there so many violations of airspace, using drones? Are they more likely to be used than manned aircraft? Clearly many drones are surrepticious, difficult to detect, and difficult to shoot down because of their size, especially without collateral damage on the ground. Because most drones are clearly for surveillance, the country sending the drone may feel they can get away with incursions even if detected, because they are a ‘minor’ threat.

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Russian Drones Deal with Special Challenges

I was amused by the photo of one version of the Russian ‘Orlan’ drone shown here. The photo is explicitly copyrighted, so I declined to copy it, but I got a chuckle out of it. I’m sure that the Canadian government would be eager to buy a bunch of these.

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Georgian Drones Still an Issue

Georgia’s use of Israeli drones helped to provoke a five day war with Russia in 2008. Apparently Georgia is still using drones to overfly South Ossetia, a territory claimed by Georgia, but which is under Russian control. Presumably these are Israeli made drones acquired recently from Israel in a deal that went bad.

Russia and Georgia have recently exchanged charges that each over flies its territory regularly, using drones.

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IAI Chairman Illuminates Israeli Arms Trade Policy

In a recent interview in the Jerusalem Post the Chairman of Israeli Aerospace Industries, Yair Shamir, illuminated some interesting parts of Israel policy.

Asked why Israel delivered UAVs to Turkey after relations between the two countries had deteriorated he replied “we do not have the luxury of making deals conditional on political requirements.”

Later: “We constantly declare to the world that we do business regardless of politics; if you buy missiles from us, we won’t demand that you vote for us in the UN. So we do not have the luxury of coming to the Turks with political demands as a condition for honoring a contract. Nevertheless, had the state required of us not to transfer the UAVs to Turkey, we would have listened. The fact is that the State of Israel did not forbid us to do so.”

Still later he said:“On the other hand, if the US reduces its global military involvement as a result of budget cuts, there will be more wars in the world, and then, of course, suppliers like us will be able to sell more arms to customers worldwide. For the time being, I don’t see immediate cuts.”

Elsewhere in the interview he expressed IAI (and Israel’s since IAI is a state owned Israeli company) desire to exploit the arms acquisition needs of countries like Russia and Columbia, with few reservations.

Yair Shamir is the son of a previous Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Shamir.

Another Israeli Company appear to also subscribe to the joint venture mode of manufacturing. Aeronautic Defence Systems has a joint venture with an Austrian company to produce the Dominator drone, which is an airplane converted to robotic control.

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Israeli Drone Industry May Not Be as Strong As One Thinks

Despite the  burgeoning drones industry, especially in Israel, some observers have sounded a note of caution. ‘Samson Blinded’ pointed out that while drones are cheaper than piloted aircraft they are still expensive and are limited in many aspects. Furthermore the market for drones is somewhat limited and hampered by low production runs. Drones are in competition with increasingly sophisticated satelites for providing imagery.

Samson Blinded claims claims that the Israeli drones industry won’t prosper without the removal of American export restrictions. (Presumably these are restrictions imposed by the US on who Israel may sell drones to).

One of the reasons that drones have proliferated recently is because of rapid advances in many of the technologies needed to make drones work. But access to these technologies will soon be widely available, and it will be possible to buy many of the drone components almost off the shelf. Thus, Israel may lose its leading position.

Apparently, Israeli Air Industries, a major drone producer and developer of the Heron drone, has announced shifting of its production facilities to the US, to meet the needs of its US military customers. It also says that it will later shift all of its production to the US, except that needed to service the needs of the Israeli Military.

Another problem for the Israeli industry is that customers often prefer to have all or part of the drones they purchase made in their home country. The UK Watchkeeper programme is an example of this, where the UK has acquired the technology of the Hermes 450, but will build it in the UK. (It is not clear how much of the Watchkeeper is UK content, and how much is Israeli-or even sourced in other countries).

Recently IAI and Elbit Systems had a $185 milllion deal with Turkey to sell Heron drones to the Turkish military, under the condition that Turkish imaging equipment was fitted into the drones (actually the deal was to have 30% Turkish content in the drones). But the Turkish cameras were much smaller than the Israeli models, limiting the altitude that the drones could reach and the time they could stay in the air. This meant that the drones no long met Turkish specifications, putting the deal in jeopardy. (Of course there are other issues as well. Due to Israel’s contentious behaviour in Palestine, and a diplomatic incident, Turkish Israeli relations were strained. An extensive report and analysis of the deal can be found here).

In November 2009 UPI reported that Turkey had prevented Israel from participating in a NATO exercise that was later cancelled due to Israel’s exclusion. Demonstrating that the Israel’s drone industry is sometimes subject to hostile action resulting from the Israeli government’s behaviour. (By January, 2010, the deal was back on track again, as reported by Airforce Technology.Com).

Sometimes it works the opposite way. In 200X Israel had a very large arms deal with Georgia, which included supplying Georgia with drones. Georgia used these drones in its subsequent conflict with Russia. Later, impressed with the performance of the Israeli drones, Russia purchased $50 million worth of Israeli drones.

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