Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/06/19/harop_paris_airshow/

Israeli robo-kamikaze selling like hot exploding cakes

Blighty reinventing prowlerbomb wheel as usual

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 19th June 2009 09:21 GMT

Paris Airshow The Israeli arms industry appears to have stolen a march on that of Britain in the field of "loitering munitions" - aerial surveillance drones equipped with warheads and designed for one-way strike missions. While Blighty pays large sums to develop a partly homegrown example, Israel is already making substantial export sales of its Harop robo-kamikaze.

The Israeli Harop prowler-bomb at the Paris Airshow

Israeli wheel ...

Israeli national aerospace'n'arms firm IAI announced a $100m+ sale to an undisclosed foreign customer last week. The Harop is now on show at the Paris Airshow, and rumour around the arms bazaar has it that the unnamed purchaser nation is Turkey - though there are other theories. Meanwhile, IAI also says that an adapted version of the hammerhead-esque killbird will also be bought by the German armed forces.

The Reg spoke yesterday to Joe Weisman of IAI at Le Bourget. Weisman explained that the Harop is a derivative of "the world's first loitering munition that I'm aware of, the Harpy defence-suppression weapon".

Harpy was designed to take out air-defence radars - a capability of great concern to the aggressive Israeli air force, known for mounting bombing raids against any target deemed dangerous by the Tel Aviv government no matter where located. Harpy would fall off its carrying aircraft and then fly about waiting for an air-defence radar below to switch on and begin emitting pulses - at which point the Harpy would dive down on the transmitter and explode.

Harop differs from Harpy in that it's directed electro-optically rather than by radar. It can be launched from a container on a ground vehicle, firing out of its box on a booster rocket then unfolding its wings and starting up its internal-combustion driven pusher propellor.

Once airborne, the Harop can fly about until its fuel is exhausted, transmitting back video to its control station just like a surveillance drone.

But "it's a missile, not a drone," says Weisman. If the Harpy doesn't find a target worthy of attack, it can't be brought back and used again. In such a case it would normally self-destruct in midair to avoid unnecessary damage.

If a target is found, however, the Harop can then fly down and crash into it with unerring precision, detonating its 50lb warhead as it does so. IAI specifies that "the attack can be performed from any direction and at any attack angle, from flat to vertical which is highly essential in urban areas".

Given the German and Turkish (or whoever) orders, it's plain that Harop is ready to go right now, and is well up to the standards of major-nation armed forces. Such "loitering munitions" are a popular concept in many quarters, too - particularly among the UK Royal Artillery, which intends to introduce a loitering munition as the cornerstone of its Indirect Fire Precision Attack (IFPA) programme, a major part of its planned future.

British arms industry trailing behind the Israelis at vast expense, shock

So keen are the British gunners on IFPA prowler-bombs, indeed, that last year they cut off funding for their new Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) medium-range missiles in mid-purchase. The Army's two GMLRS regiments will now have a total stock of 1400 smart-rockets: just four salvoes' worth.

The Fire Shadow loitering munition in development. Credit: MBDA

... Reinvented in Britain (and elsewhere) at your expense.

So we can take it that the British Army's artillerymen are keen to get some robokamikazes into service. They/we certainly have the money: IFPA is slated to cost at least £500m overall, and fully £165m was transferred out of GMLRS rockets just last year, substantially more than IAI's nameless customer is paying for its Harops. If the Royal Artillery spent, say, half its IFPA money on Harops, it would have at least three or four times the prowler-bomb clout of the unnamed IAI customer nation, which would seem a suitable margin of superiority over any likely UK adversary. And IAI could start supplying Harops very quickly. And there'd be a quarter-billion or so to spend on other things: enough to increase Blighty's fleet of Chinook helicopters by more than half, for instance.

Needless to say, the Ministry of Defence isn't doing any such thing. Rather, the IFPA cash is being spent in accordance with the UK Defence Industrial Strategy, to maintain a complex munitions manufacturing base in the UK. Well, partly in the UK and partly elsewhere, actually. "Team Loitering Munition" is led by pan-Euro missile group MBDA, and also includes Thales of France, Lockheed of the USA, Selex of Italy etc etc.

Team Loitering Munition are working hard on their Fire Shadow Harop-a-like, and say they might have it ready to go as soon as 2011. The Fire Shadow scheme was very much the brainchild of Lord Drayson, the Labour peer, who started it up in 2006 when he was MoD kit-purchasing chief.

If he'd instead ordered some Harops at that point, the way the Germans have, the Royal Artillery would be tooled up now - not waiting for at least another two years. We'd also have saved some hundreds of millions of pounds. Of course, we'd miss out on the chance to try and undercut Israel in the business of exporting killbirds to undisclosed nations, but some would say that's not the MoD's concern.

Lord Drayson wouldn't say that, though. He doesn't make any secret of his belief that the defence budget - and probably the science budget too - are mainly there to assist British (well, partly British) business.

Now that Drayson is back (as the number-two-ranking minister, too) at the MoD - whilst retaining high rank at the new biznovation department - his view will no doubt prevail.

Of course one might argue that the Artillery are only really keen on loitering munitions (as opposed to armed drones) because they don't want their new toys snatched by the RAF, which is quite annoying to taxpayers who have to pay for such foolish turf wars. Even so, it seems a bit unfair that the UK armed forces are almost never allowed to buy anything until the British arms biz can get a cut of the pie.

Perhaps one day we UK taxpayers will recoup all our IFPA/Fire Shadow money in the form of export sales, quality manufacturing jobs and balance-of-payments benefit, even if we miss out on having properly-armed forces in the meantime. But such exports seldom actually happen: especially not when the market's been sewn up years in advance by the Israelis. ®