JERUSALEM — Elbit Systems is providing more than 1,000 of its THOR drones and other UAVs to a Southeast Asian country under a $153 million deal, the Israeli company announced Oct. 6. This is the latest UAV-related deal for an Israeli firm after Cyprus announced it will buy $13 million in drones from Aeronautics Limited on Oct. 3.
The THOR is a multi-rotor vertical-takeoff-and-landing mini-drone. Elbit will supply a variety of drones over the next two years — including the THOR, Skylark LEX, Skylark 3 and Hermes 450 tactical UAS — as well as ground control stations.
“This contract award underlines our competitive edge as armies increasingly view multi-layered UAS solutions as key to providing superior intelligence and maintaining a high level of operational flexibility,” said the president of Elbit, Bezhalel Machil.
The Israel Defense Forces uses an array of UAVs, including very small ones, as it faces threats on its northern border with Lebanon and clashes with adversaries along the Gaza border.
While 1,000-plus drones may seem like a lot, the U.S., Australian and Israeli militaries have each used large numbers of similar DJI Mavic-style drones for years.
The THOR offers a real-time data link and a 360-degree view in all weather and terrain conditions, according to Elbit.
“THOR is suitable for operation in urban areas with non-line of sight communications, as well as in marine zones,” the company said.
It can fly up to 2,000 feet and has a a range of 10 kilometers. It can carry a payload of 3 kilograms for about an hour and 15 minutes. The drone was designed for surveillance and reconnaissance missions, specifically for monitoring houses, roads or other areas where lightweight versatility would be beneficial. Along with the Skylark and Hermes product line, Elbit has been highlighting it at DSEI and Milipol Paris as an effective low acoustic signature solution.
Israel is a pioneer in UAV production, once exporting about $500 million worth of drones a year, but it is facing competition, particularly from Chinese exports, that reduced that figure to $100-200 million, depending on the year.
But Asian markets are proving fruitful for Israeli companies, particularly India. The Philippines was reportedly nearing a $180 million deal with Elbit this summer that included Skylark and Hermes 450 drones. The country had acquired 13 Hermes UAVs in 2018.
The government there has been trying to upgrade its UAVs for years, increasingly so following its fight against the Islamic State group in Marawi, which illustrated the need for small tactical VTOL drones, such as the THOR. Media reports said that under the 2018 deal, some of the UAVs might be produced at the joint venture Adani Elbit UAV complex in Hyderbad, India.
Elbit would not reveal the country involved in the latest THOR sale, and a query to the Philippines Embassy in Tel Aviv went unanswered.
Seth Frantzman has been covering conflict in the Middle East since 2010 as a researcher, analyst and correspondent for different publications. In recent years he has focused on the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is the executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.