Ireland has agreed to buy two Israeli-made robot spy planes that will be used by the defence forces for surveillance missions. The department of defence confirmed that a contract was signed in May with Aeronautics Defence Systems Ltd (ADS) of Israel for two of their Orbiter systems, for €780,000 ($1.1 million).
The Orbiter system was selected after three tenders were evaluated to give the Defence Forces a basic day/night UAV capability. Israel's ADS won the tender for the hi-tech aircraft. However, the move could prove politically controversial.
Israel is a key player in the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) market, as it uses them extensively for surveillance and targeted assassination of militants. UAVs played a major role in the heavy fighting against Hezbollah during last year's war in Lebanon.
Drones have also been widely used for surveillance in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, more recently, for direct pinpoint attack using missiles. The UAV selected by Ireland is one of the smallest available, and can fit into a soldier's backpack.
Ireland decided to acquire UAVs in 2005, but kept the decision secret. They are to be operated by army communications personnel, and not the air corps. This means that they will be used for surveillance, artillery spotting and support for special forces.
They are to be delivered later this year. This is not the first Irish arms deal with Israel; the country recently won a €2.5 million ($3.42 million) order for 12,000 helmets for the defence forces.
According to the manufacturers, the mini-UAV Orbiter system gives field commanders near instant 'over the hill' reconnaissance capability. Operated by two people, it can be used in counter terror operations, special operations and low intensity conflicts.
It is equipped with day and night cameras, can be carried in a backpack and assembled in 10 minutes. The Orbiter UAV is launched by a catapult, has a 15km range, can fly for an hour and a half, and can reach an altitude of 15,000 feet.
UAVs are now used all over the world, for a variety of applications; they have been used by the Swiss Army and may be used there during the Euro 2008 football championships the country will host jointly with Austria. But their use in Switzerland sparked a debate about privacy, after police arrested two men who the pilotless drone spotted smoking marijuana in a forest.