PARIS — Romania plans to ramp up its drone arsenal, following up a recent purchase of Turkish TB2s with an initial order for three aircraft from Israel’s Elbit Systems, valued at $180 million.
At the 2023 iteration of the Paris Air Show here, the company announced Romania as the latest customer of its Watchkeeper X system. The contract was signed as part of a framework agreement finalized in December, and it will see Elbit deliver three initial unmanned aerial systems by 2025, with the possibility to provide four additional ones later.
The drones will be an upgraded version of the Watchkeeper X, integrated with add-on capabilities, including the Spectro XR multi-spectral, electro-optical payload as well as new communications and radar features.
Speaking to Defense News, Amir Bettesh, vice president of UAS marketing and business development at Elbit, explained that as part of the framework agreement part of the production of the Watchkeepers will be carried out in Romania and involve local partners.
“We view this opportunity as a gate to selling our systems to other NATO countries, especially in Europe, where we are seeing an important increase in the demand” for drones of that size, he said.
The Watchkeeper X is a dual-payload drone that can be used to carry out intelligence and reconnaissance missions, providing maritime and land surveillance as well. It is the UK export variant of a British Army model, produced by a joint venture between Elbit and Thales UK, and based on the Israeli Hermes series.
The UK has faced a number of issues with the Watchkeeper X program, with government officials pointing out that in 2020 only 13 of the 45-strong drone fleet had flown that year. Prior to this, between 2017 and 2018, three of them crashed in different parts of the country.
When asked about these problems, the Elbit executive called them “common challenges” faced by the majority of countries operating aerial drones.
It was only a few weeks ago that Romania announced that it was acquiring TB2 drones from Turkish manufacturer Baykar, showing a willingness to diversify its suppliers.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.