Defence Forces to use Israeli robot spy planes

UAVs used widely in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Don Lavery

TWO Israeli-made robot spy planes are to be used by the Defence Forces for surveillance missions after the country won a tender competition to supply the hi-tech aircraft.

In a move that could prove politically controversial, Ireland has selected Israel as its supplier of the advanced pilotless drones.

Israel is seen as a key player in the sector as it uses Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) extensively for surveillance and targeted assassination of militants, and it used them recently in the heavy fighting in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Drones have also been widely used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for surveillance and more recently, direct attack using missiles. The UAV selected by Ireland is one of the smallest available and can fit into a soldier's backpack.

The Irish Independent first revealed in January 2006 that Ireland was acquiring UAVs to be operated by Army communications personnel, and not the Air Corps, and that they would be used for surveillance, artillery spotting and support for special forces.

Yesterday, the Department of Defence confirmed that a contract was signed in May with Aeronautics Defence Systems Ltd of Israel for two of their Orbiter systems, in a contract worth €780,000.

A spokeswoman said the Orbiter system was selected after three tenders were evaluated to give the Defence Forces a basic day/night UAV capability.

They would be delivered later this year and would be used to build on the training provided by the company and increase expertise in the Defence Forces, the spokeswoman said.

It is the latest Irish order placed with Israel; the country recently won a €2.5m order for 12,000 helmets for the Defence Forces.

The mini-UAV Orbiter system, according to the manufacturers, gives field commanders near-instant "over the hill" reconnaissance capability, and can be used in counter terror operations, special operations and low intensity conflicts.

Carrying day and night cameras, it can be assembled in ten minutes, carried in a backpack and is operated by two people.


It is launched by a catapult, has a 15km range, can fly for an hour and a half, and reaches an altitude of 15,000 feet.

UAVs are now used extensively worldwide, for example they have been used by the Swiss Army and may be used there during the Euro 2008 football championships hosted jointly with Austria.

But their use in Switzerland sparked a debate about privacy after police busted two men who were smoking pot in a forest - after they had been spotted by a pilotless drone.