The United States army is interested in purchasing additional Israeli-made Hunter drones, which took part in the war in Iraq.
The American corporation Northrop Grumman, the U.S. Army's main supplier of Israeli drones, has received a request for 14 to 24 drone systems at an estimated cost of $60 to $70 million.
The Hunter drones were developed by the Israel Military Industries (IMI) in the first half of the 1990s in cooperation with the American company TRW, at the request of the U.S. Army. According to the original plan, the Hunter was destined to be the U.S. Army's main tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and the overall deal was estimated to be worth $1 billion.
In 1996 the U.S. Army had difficulties with the drones and shortly after the first batch arrived, it decided to remove them from operative service.
But after a series of tests in the U.S. and participation in military exercises, the Hunter proved successful in gathering intelligence and for surveillance. In the past year Northrop Grumman took over TRW and bought the rights for the Hunter drones. The largest drone manufacturer in the U.S., the company decided to upgrade the Hunter in cooperation with IMI.
On the eve of the Paris air show, American Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Kevin Meiners reported that the U.S. operated 100 UAVs of nine different kinds, 16 of which were Hunters. Meiners said the Hunter notched up 190 sorties - the largest number of all the UAVs in the war in Iraq, twice as many as the Predator drone which came second with 93 sorties.
During the war the American army lost three Hunter drones. Two were intercepted by the Iraqi army and one crashed because of a mechanical malfunction. In addition three Predator drones, a Pioneer drone (also made by the IMI) and at least two British drones fell. Following the Hunter's success in the war in Iraq, the American army's drone program director Colonel John Burke said in an interview to the American army magazine Defense News two weeks ago that most Hunter drones are now being upgraded to maintain their airworthiness until the year 2009.
Northrop Grumman said it was in the process of turning the Hunter from an intelligence-gathering drone to one armed with antitank missiles.