MILAN— The Italian special forces is the undisclosed European NATO member set to receive Hero-30 loitering munitions this year as an “urgent mission requirement,” according to recently published contract documents.
In September, German company Rheinmetall and its Israeli-based partner UVision announced in a news release they received their first order from a European NATO special forces formation for the supply of Hero-30 loitering combat and training munitions, training courses, and integrated logistics equipment and support.
At the time, several Italian analysts noted that Rome had introduced in its 2021-2023 defense-planning document the funding of a program aimed at acquiring these types of weapons, deemed a mission urgent requirement for its special forces units.
In December 2022, the Tenders Electronic Daily, an online version of the Supplement to the Official Journal of the European Union dedicated to detailing public procurement efforts on the continent, ended months of rumors by publishing the contract award notice to Rheinmetall’s subsidiary RWM Italia for the production of these types of munitions.
While the precise number of weapons on order remains classified, the value of the contract is €3.88 million (U.S. $4.21 million). Deliveries are expected this year.
The notice lists the winner of the contract as RWM Italia S.p.A based in Ghedi, northern Italy. In 2021, UVision signed a strategic agreement with the Italian entity for the licensed production and development of Hero-type loitering munitions. The partnership has RWM Italia acting as prime contractor for the European market, supplying and manufacturing some ammunition components, assembling systems, and managing logistical support.
Antonio Tessarotto, a sales and marketing manager at RWM Italia, declined to identify the customer and contract details. This is common in Italy, where the majority of defense manufacturers are contractually bound to secrecy, especially when it comes to the special forces; orders are often classified.
However, this approach has also led to criticism over transparency by Italian defense manufacturers and the government.
Tessarotto did confirm to Defense News that RWM Italia “currently deals exclusively with the European market, [where] countries outside of this market are not covered by the agreement with UVision.” He added that, throughout the region, there is a strong interest in better understanding this weapon, which is highly accurate and minimizes collateral damage.
Loitering munitions, also known as kamikaze drones, are unmanned aerial systems that crash into their targets and often explode upon impact. The Hero series includes a wide range of loitering munitions, from the smallest system, the Hero-30 — a manpack-portable short-range weapon — to the largest, the Hero-1250 — a heavier, highly lethal drone used for long-range missions.
The Israel Defesne Forces have operated the systems for years now, but its most recent customer is Argentina, the first Latin American country to purchase the Hero-120 and Hero-30 munitions. The contract was signed by Argentina’s Defense Ministry and Israel’s Directorate of International Defense Cooperation.
Dagan Lev Ari, the sales and marketing director at Uvision in Israel, declined to comment on the manufacturing location of Argentina’s orders. As did Jim Truxel, CEO of UVision USA, an American subsidiary established in 2019. However, Truxel did note that “nothing has crossed my desk regarding any efforts [of UVision USA] with Argentina.”
The American unit “was established to bring our products and services closer to North American customers. If any non-U.S. customer would want to purchase Hero systems through proper U.S. government programs,” Truxel said, “we would then be able to supply them through these programs. Other UVision subsidiaries manage their surrounding geographical locations.”
For the Israeli company, collaboration with Italy provides direct access to the European market and a means by which to promote its weapons to the region’s armed forces.
As the company has grown — it founded AVision Systems in India in 2021 — so has the interest in loitering munitions. Both Ukraine and Russia have used the weapon type against the other in the ongoing war.
But UVision has competition in Europe; drone specialist AeroVironment has sold the Switchblade 300 and 600 systems to European customers. The American company ramped up orders last year, with France requesting to procure the systems and Lithuania acquiring both.
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.