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Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) have become a very important item in the defence shopping lists of countries around the world, and its sales have recently reached an all-time peak.

Between 2010 and 2015, there were more than 500 UAS deals compared to 322 in the previous five years. Israel was the largest exporter of UAS. Between 2010 and 2014, it delivered 165 units across the globe, while the US came second with 132, followed by Italy’s 37.

Since 1985, Israel has accounted for the majority (60.7%) of UAS exports worldwide. Could Israel keep its position as a top UAS exporter? Well, this has become complicated due to some factors that are under Israel’s control while other factors are beyond its reach.

The open ”war” between the two major Israeli UAS manufacturers has had an important impact. Last year, the Israeli Ministry of Defence withdrew the export permits to Poland, held by the two major Israeli UAS manufacturers  – Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems, over the backdrop of a conflict between the two companies.

As there is no vacuum in the weapons market, international manufacturers have teamed with local Polish companies and have bid for UAS contracts.

Another example – since the armed conflict between Russia and the Ukraine has started, the Ukraine has expressed its urgent need for some types of Israeli-made UASs. Negotiations began with some Israeli manufacturers and at least one has reached a very advanced stage, but finally the Israeli Foreign Ministry blocked the sale in an attempt to avoid any negative effect on Russian-Israeli relations.

These examples and many more show that the number of Israeli-made UAS exported to foreign countries does not depend only on their quality and price.

And while in most of the countries the government has been helping the local industries in the marketing of their products, Israel refrains from doing so. Moreover, Israel has not made any move to enhance the status of the local UAS industry. This lack of macro thinking will have a very bad impact in the future.

US companies are now competing on tenders that previously were considered  “marginal” money wise. “Now we find American companies in almost every competition”, a source in the Ministry of Defence said.

The US has been taking actual steps to enhance its UAS industry. Its Lawmakers pledge to continue support for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. The FAA selected the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), a consortium of universities headed by Mississippi State University (MSU), to lead the UAS COE. The FAA expects the COE to be fully operational this year.

This program aims at exploiting the evolving new technological developments regarding unmanned aircraft and their uses, including detect-and-avoid technology, low-altitude operations safety, privacy safeguards, and other areas. Research will also involve the deployment of UAS for emergency response, biofuel and clean fuel technologies, law enforcement, and agricultural and environmental monitoring.

The market has been flooded with different UAS models, and as not all the potential customers need “combat proven” systems, manufacturers in many countries, especially China, manage to export their products. Meanwhile, Israel as a state has failed to support this most promising export market; and Israeli systems are not cleared for export. Without sufficient contracts, these Israeli companies will lack the funds for the further development of new UAS generations.