JERUSALEM — Bluebird Aero Systems has sold more than 150 vertical-takeoff-and-landing drones to an unnamed European country in a deal worth “tens of millions of euros,” the Israeli company announced Tuesday.
The company, which makes WanderB and ThunderB tactical VTOL drones, said the customer will incorporate the two UAV types into infantry, armored, artillery and special forces units.
The commander of the ground forces of the unnamed country provided a statement via Bluebird that said the government was impressed with the VTOL solution, as it will enable “high operational flexibility and provide invaluable real-time intelligence and situational awareness.”
The VTOL design has been tested in harsh environments and proved reliable. The recently sold drones are expected to be deployed to enhance the capabilities of units adjusting to modern fighting methods, providing “advanced and reliable intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capabilities to address the modern battlefield’s challenges,” the commander said.
The head of the country’s special forces brigade command agreed with the ground forces commander that the long range and endurance of the man-packable and tactical UAVs will aid in rapid deployment with small units. The special forces leader added that the UAV is a fit for day and night use.
Bluebird’s unmanned aircraft systems have been operational with the Israel Defense Forces since 2002 and in other countries since 2006, where they have logged a total of 52,000 sorties.
According to the recent edition of the Drone Databook at Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone, Bluebird UAVs are also used by India, Chile and Ethiopia. These countries use the 9.5-kilogram SpyLite, which has a range of 50 kilometers. In contrast the ThunderB, which was sold in this contract, weighs 32 kilograms and has a range of 150 kilometers. It can also carry a small cargo under each wing, which Bluebird says can be used to drop “essential material” with an accurate ballistic trajectory. The WanderB is man-packable at 13 kilograms and a 50-kilometer range. It can be used to relay real-time surveillance using electro-optical/infrared payloads. Bluebird says the ThunderB is ideal for long, covert intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance missions.
Bluebird is confident the latest deal will lead to additional European contracts. This deal adds to an overall trend of growth for Israeli companies in Europe as well as the expansion of the small and mini-UAV market. Israel’s Elbit Systems sold more than 1,000 mini-drones in a $153 million deal last year to a southeast Asian country. More countries are seeking these smaller UAS solutions for tactical or special forces units in the field, including pairing drones with armored vehicles. This is especially the case as technology advances and units seek to modernize and network together fleets of drones.
Seth J. Frantzman is the Israel correspondent for Defense News. He has covered conflict in the Mideast since 2010 for different publications. He has experience covering the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is a co-founder and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.