ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The Estonian drone industry, which has been developing at a slow pace over the last decade, is seeing a significant push from domestic manufacturers and has unveiled its first loitering munition.
According to John Cornish, sales director at Viimsi, Estonia-based Threod Systems, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has greatly accelerated the demand for these platforms and shown how unprepared smaller countries are to face this type of conflict.
“The war has truly made us realize how weak Europe’s drone industry has been and how several countries have lagged in acquiring the right kind of systems to be in a position to effectively defend themselves,” he said at the IDEX arms fair here.
Only two weeks ago, the Estonian firm Terramil unveiled its first loitering munition, the K12, also exhibited at IDEX. The quadcopter is the first of its kind the company has produced, and it is best suited for short-range strike missions against armored targets. Weighing in at 4.4 kilograms, it can carry payloads up to 7.6 kilograms and fly for 17 minutes out to a range of 5 kilometers. In contrast to other loitering munitions, such capabilities may not be considered advanced, but the company says it is only now beginning to experiment with these technologies.
“We are currently working on a second, much larger drone that will be able to carry bigger payloads covering distances approximating 100 kilometers. We expect it will begin to undergo testing in one to two months,” a Terramil representative here said.
Earlier this month, Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur stated that the country is looking to procure an important quantity of loitering munitions to enhance its indirect fire capability, though it was unclear whether the push would involve national, European or global suppliers.
As domestic manufacturers do not really possess extensive experience in this domain and almost none have produce advanced variants, Cornish concurs that it is likely that Estonia could decide to contract with an international partner.
Israel may have a shot at securing a deal – it has in the past supplied Estonia with Elbit munitions and a coastal defense system from IAI.
Meanwile, Threod Systems has seen such a surge in the demand for its EOS vertical-takeoff-and-landing surveillance drones, that the company is opening a second production plant in Estonia.
“We are currently working at full capacity to meet 2023 orders and delivering approximately 16 systems a month,” said Cornish. Our drones currently are operating in two conflict zones with high success rates – in Ukraine and Mozambique.”
The EOS aircraft have an endurance of three hours and are in use globally with 16 countries. When asked about possible new customers, the company representative said that Pakistan and India had recently shown interest.
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.