TEL AVIV, Israel, July 25 (UPI) -- Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. is working with French company Dassault Aviation SA to manufacture F-Heron TP unmanned aerial vehicle drones in Israel.
According to the terms of the contract, whose value is estimated to be worth $431 million-$575 million, IAI will manufacture the F-Heron TP components in Israel and Dassault will assemble the sections in France.
The contract represents the first time that the IAI's Heron TP advanced UAV model will be sold outside Israel. The Israeli military has been deploying the craft since early 2010, Israel's Globes business news service reported.
France's Ministry of Defense spent more than a year evaluating various foreign UAV options. Other systems under consideration included the Talarion twin jet-engine UAV manufactured by European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company NV, first displayed as a mockup displayed at the 2009 Paris Air Show.
France's Ministry of Defense chose the IAI-Dassault bid over an updated version of the Talarion UAV made by European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company NV, which is already in service. The selection process for the new UAV lasted a year.
A second competitor ultimately rejected by France's Ministry of Defense was the MQ-9 Reaper UAV made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. of California.
The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, originally designated the Predator B, is a UAV capable of remote controlled or autonomous flight operations developed for use by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the CIA, U.S. Customs, the British air force and the Italian air force.
The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance.
Israeli defense industry sources said they are confident that the French air force will purchase several dozen F-Heron TPs along with command-and-control systems in a contract potential worth ultimately up to nearly $600 million, with deliveries scheduled to begin in the 2015-17 timeframe.
Many other countries are interested in the F-Heron TP as well.
Earlier this year, following heightened tensions with North Korea, the South Korean army began evaluating several Israeli-produced UAV designs, including the F-Heron TP. South Korea's evaluation efforts were assisted by Sibat, the Israeli Defense Ministry division in charge of defense exports.
As with the Dassault contract, Israeli sources said any future UAV deal with South Korea could be expected to include cooperation between the Israeli UAV manufacturer selected and corresponding South Korean manufacturing firms.
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