TEL AVIV, Israel, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- The Israeli navy will shortly begin deploying unmanned craft along the Mediterranean coast, particularly off the Hamas-held Gaza Strip in the south and Lebanon in the north where Hezbollah guerrillas operate.
These highly maneuverable unmanned surface vehicles, operated by remote control from land stations, can carry out a wide range of missions, such as patrolling coastal waters to counter gun-running and infiltration with less prospect of being detected than the much larger manned vessels.
"There are areas that the navy preferred to first enter in an unmanned capacity before a manned capacity," a senior navy officer told The Jerusalem Post Sunday in reference to the Gaza and Lebanon sectors.
The Protector, built by Rafael Advanced Systems Ltd., is one of the new systems acquired by the navy. It can carry a wide range of payloads, including cameras, sensors and weapons.
These new craft are making Israel one of the global leaders in the development and combat deployment of unmanned systems in the air, on the land and now at sea.
Israel's defense industry recently announced the development of an unmanned land vehicle for carrying supplies in combat zones.
Elbit Systems will be displaying a newly developed land robot, the Beagle, at the Association of the United States Army defense exhibition in Washington.
The Beagle is self-navigating and can avoid obstacles and climb stairs. Its extendable arm can lift up to 4.5 pounds and carry a wide variety of payloads.
But it is in the air that Israeli expertise in the unmanned vehicle sector is most widely seen.
Elbit will be also be displaying for the first time at the Washington exhibition its Hermes 90 long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, which can remain aloft for up to 18 hours and has a range of up to 62 miles.
Poland is currently considering buying Israeli UAVs to support its forces deployed in Afghanistan.
"We're going to buy a whole range of drones, from short to medium range," Defense Minister Bogdan Klich told Jane's Defense Weekly in August.
He comments followed Warsaw's Aug. 11 announcement that Poland would create a backup force of 200 troops for its 2,000-man contingent currently serving with NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
APA, the news agency of Azerbaijan, citing the Azeri taxation ministry, reported that Elbit had opened an office in Baku, capital of the oil-rich former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan where Israeli influence is growing. Israel is a major buyer of Azeri oil from the Caspian Basin.
Elbit is working on UAV projects with the Azeri Defense Ministry, whose budget this year was increased to $2.5 billion.
According to Azeri media, Israel defense contractor Aeronautics Defense Systems will construct a factory to help the Azeris build UAVs and satellites.
The company's chief executive officer, Avi Leumi, accompanied Israeli President Shimon Peres when he visited Baku in June.