Drone Wars: The Fight for a Piece of the European Pie

The Israeli defense industries are engaged in a struggle against Italian and US companies over contracts for the operation of UAVs in EU projects. According to recent reports, a European agency has recently tested IAI’s Heron 1 UAV

Heron 1 UAV (Photo: IAI)

Israel, Italy, and the US are engaged in a behind-the-scenes battle over a piece of the budget pie of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, along with UAV operations by EMSA, the European Maritime Safety Agency, which provides UAVs for coastguard and border control operations.

According to a report on the German website Heise.de, Frontex started to employ UAVs in the last quarter of 2019, as stated by the former European Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, in an attachment to a response to an inquiry by a member of the German Parliament. Bulc wrote that the UAVs were used for “general maritime surveillance” and coastguard operations in Greece. For the purpose of this mission, the European authorities have thus far tested the Heron 1 UAV by IAI and the Falco UAV by Leonardo. In the near future, the Europeans are expected to test the Predator UAV by General Atomics.

According to the Commission, EMSA has signed ten UAV mission contracts in 2019. For example, the organization signed contracts with Tekever and UAVision (Portugal), Schiebel (Austria), Elbit Systems, and Lockheed Martin. The most active zones for UAV operations were Portugal and Croatia, and UAV flights were also executed in Denmark, Iceland, Italy, and Spain. In addition to maritime surveillance, the Commission stated that another objective of the use of UAVs was controlling ship discharges and fighting pollution.

In anticipation of the coming year, EMSA has received eight formal requests from EU countries for the employment of UAVs in the maritime environment. The requesting countries included Bulgaria, Lithuania, France, and the Netherlands. The overhanging Brexit cloud notwithstanding, the UK has also submitted such a request, having dealt with an increasing number of refugee boats entering British coastal waters in the last year.

Without a doubt, the world’s leading UAV industries aspire to be included in the projects of EMSA and Frontex, not just because of the direct financial gains. The employment of UAVs in these projects can give the winning industry an advantage in future European tenders. Accordingly, it seems that the Israeli industries face fierce competition on the part of the US industries, which can use the leverage provided by the White House for this purpose.

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