Israel's Meteor Aerospace unveils unmanned craft

Itzhak Nissan  picture: Ben Yuster

The new company's line of products include UAVs capable of remaining airborne for 24 hours.

Two years after being launched by businessman Hezi Bezalel and former Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) CEO Itzhak Nissan, defense company Meteor Aerospace Ltd. is unveiling its first line of products, featuring unmanned vehicles suitable for marine, air, and land combat and routine security missions.

These products include an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of remaining airborne for 24 hours and bearing payloads of up to 150 kilograms according to the character of their mission, vessels, and armed unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).

Meteor Aerospace CEO and chairman Itzhak Nissan says, "The company has agreements totaling over $100 million and options for more deals amounting to an additional $150 million. We have a well-ordered strategic plan, and expected a significant volume of additional deals. Up until now, we have operated quietly, avoiding appearances at exhibitions and publicity, and keeping under the radar."

Nissan declines to reveal particulars of the deals signed by Meteor Aerospace in its first two years, such as the identity of the company's customers and the markets in which it operates. A year ago, "Globes" revealed the new company's activity, and sources close to it said the company was aiming its products mainly at markets in Asia, Africa, and South America. According to past reports, the African market is not a new one for Bezalel, Meteor Aerospace's chief investor, who has been involved in arms deals there in the past. Nissan told "Globes" that Bezalel "made a good deal, and the company has already made back the full investment."

"Excellent engineering team"

The young company's production and assembly site is in Modi'in. According to Nissan, the line of products currently being promoted by the company was developed by its personnel, some of whom previously worked at larger and more veteran defense companies. "We have an excellent engineering team that we recruited when the company was just beginning," Nissan explained. The accompanying systems carried by Meteor Aerospace's unmanned vehicles were purchased from other companies active in the defense and civilian spheres.

The products launched by Meteor Aerospace in recent days include unmanned naval vessels, which Nissan says were developed specifically for naval defense missions. These vessels are 13 meters long, weigh eight tons, and have a maximum speed of 65 knots. "This is a very high speed; the vessel simply 'floats' above the water," Nissan says. The vessels can operate automatically in the sea for more than 20 days.

For land missions, such as infantry support, Meteor Aerospace is also launching an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) weighing 4.5 tons capable of bearing a one-ton payload. The company says that the new six-wheeled vehicle is highly maneuverable in difficult terrain, and is equipped with an advanced hybrid propulsion system: "This vehicle has automatic driving capabilities according to various landmarks, while identifying and bypassing obstacles in its path. It is suitable for diverse missions, including armed patrols, observation missions, fire support, transporting supplies to combat troops in the field, and even evacuation of the wounded from the battlefield under fire," Nissan explains.

Nissan was IAI CEO until four years ago, following 30 years of experience in senior positions in the company. One of his main deals at IAI, which he completed a few days before ending his six year term as CEO there, was with the Indian Ministry of Defense, involving its participation in the program for development of an advanced defense system based on the Barak 8 missile. This mega deal was estimated at $1.8 billion. A series of interception trials of the new missile in Israel and India was recently completed. Referring to his position as CEO at Meteor Aerospace, Nissan said, "The keys to success have not changed: innovation, daring, and quickness are the principles I promoted at IAI, and that's what I'm also doing now at Meteor Aerospace."

Nissan declined to comment on the crisis at IAI in recent years, with negotiations between company management and the workers over a comprehensive recovery plan, likely to include voluntary retirement for 1,000 of IAI's 17,000 workers, commencing in the past two weeks. Sources close to him this week said, however, that when he resigned from IAI, the company had signed orders totaling $10 billion.

It won't be easy

11 Israeli defense companies are participating in the 2016 Singapore Airshow, considered one of the world's most prestigious defense exhibitions, which opened two days ago. Ministry of Defense officials, including director general General (res.) Dan Harel and Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Organization (SIBAT) director Brigadier General (res.) Mishel Ben Baruch, who are also attending, are slightly encouraged by the final 2015 figures emerging for exports by Israeli defense companies. Ben Baruch said that the final figures would be available only in another month, and predictions that exports would be the lowest in a decade had been disproved. Deals settled in the final quarter of 2015 will lift exports far above the initial $4.5 billion projection, compared with $5.6 billion in 2014.

It appears that 2015 defense exports will be at least $5 billion, but SIBAT is not ignoring the difficult market conditions. While heaving a sigh of relief that 2015 was not worse, they know that 2016 will not be an easy year.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 21, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

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Itzhak Nissan  picture: Ben Yuster
Itzhak Nissan picture: Ben Yuster
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