LONDON - Britain's Royal Air Force has been considering the purchase of unmanned aerial vehicles from Israel.
The Eitan, also known as the Heron TP, is the largest and most sophisticated drone Israel makes. It is assembled by Israel Aerospace Industries and began operational service in the Israel Air Force two years ago, in a new squadron at the Tel Nof airbase.
The Eitan's wingspan is as wide as a Boeing 737 airliner and it can stay in the air for up to forty hours, carrying out long-range missions at 40 thousand feet, hundreds of kilometers away from base, broadcasting back real-time footage of wide areas. According to foreign sources, the Eitan also carries out missions over Iran.
Israeli and British security sources have confirmed in recent days that the Royal Air Force has been considering buying a number of Eitan systems, since the Mantis, a joint British-French unmanned strategic project, has been delayed and will not be operational before 2020.
No official request has yet been made by the British Ministry of Defense and for now, the RAF is only making initial examinations and is also considering American UAVs and continuing its manned surveillance flights while waiting for the Mantis.
A purchase of an Israeli military system will surely cause protests by pro-Palestinian organizations. Today, Israel buys very little military products from Britain due to export limits placed in the past by the British foreign ministry.
If the RAF selects the Eitan, it will be the second Israeli UAV bought by the British, following the Hermes 450, which is developed in Israel by Elbit and is built in Britain in a joint venture with the Thales Company as part of a NIS 4.7 billion contract.
That deal also drew anti-Israel protest and the British demanded that Elbit cease test-flights over the Golan Heights and move them to within the Green Line. The Hermes 450 is to carry out tactical surveillance missions over Afghanistan.
An official at Israel Aerospace Industries said that, "Following the decision of the French ministry of defense to purchase the Eitan, we certainly expect other European armies to buy it."
A British Ministry of Defense spokesperson said that, In order to provide our troops with the best equipment available, we continually look at how we can exploit a range of emerging and developing technologies to support our Armed Forces.
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