By Paolo Valpolini
In 2020 the war in Nagorno-Karabakh brought to the front pages of many major newspapers the definition “Loitering Munitions”, these weapon systems having been around for decades, mostly unknown to the generic public. A hybridation between UAVs and missiles, Loitering Munitions (LMs) give the military the advantage of circling over the target area for a relatively long period, allowing identifying priority target, before locking onto them and starting their final course. The concept was developed in Israel in the early 1980s, and not surprisingly one of the few companies which portfolio contains only this type of weapon system is Israeli. Located some 25 km northwest of Tel Aviv, UVision has concentrated all its efforts on the development of LMs of different size and range. “Until the war in Ukraine LMs were not at the forefront of military acquisitions, but now many Ministry of Defence understood that it has become an urgent issue and we are receiving a lot of interest from many nations,” Dagan Lev Ari, UVision sales and marketing director tells EDR On-Line. With the world having now figured out the importance of LMs on the modern battlefield, UVision might be confronted to a surge in production that might exceed its capabilities. “This is not true as we have a lot of room for international cooperation based on industrial partnership,” Dagan Lev Ari points out. UVision USA is already producing Hero 120 LMs for the US Marine Corps that selected the Israeli system for its Organic Precision Fires-Mounted programme. Those LMs are fitted with warheads and data-link developed and produced in the United States and therefore fall within ITAR regulations. However the US factory is not the only one where HERO LMs are produced. UVision; in 2020 the Israeli company announced a joint venture with Aditya Precitech, an Indian company, for the manufacture and marketing of loitering munitions, the new company being named AVision. However EDR On-Line understood that AVision would be involved only in the manufacturing of LMs for the Indian market.
A most recent agreement was inked with RWM Italia, one of the Italian subsidiaries of Rheinmetall. The first step of the agreement was mainly oriented at marketing however the roadmap includes further steps that will bring to the production of some elements, among which warheads, as well as to an assembly line, the Rheinmetall role being also that of modifying the original HERO to cope with NATO standards, which would facilitate the commercial penetration especially in Europe. During a first meeting with Rheinmetall and UVision representatives last January these step forwards seemed to be relatively far away, but the probable need to ramp up production to answer the requirements coming from many countries might well speed up the process.
Another increase in UVision capabilities comes from the recent teaming with SpearUAV, a Tel Aviv-based company with operations in the US specialised in the design and production of quadcopter UAS that can be launched from canisters of different dimensions, even from underwater. “We have in common some technologies and we foresee a lot of potential in our teaming, as SpearUAV products will extend our portfolio providing additional operational capabilities,” Dagan Lev Ari explains. Cooperation has just started, EDR On-Line understanding that some of the Ninox quadcopters produced by SpearUAV might be turned into loitering munitions, the Ninox VRS having a 500 grams payload and the Ninox 103 twice that payload. This will extend the UVision portfolio in the tactical/Special Forces segment.
As for existing HERO line of products, UVision is constantly improving its LMs although these upgrades are often not visible as they concern mostly software or subsystems carried inside the fuselage. “We are adding software improvements and we are making them more resilient to jamming while also adding better tracking and communications capabilities,” the company sales and marketing director tells EDR On-Line.
At Eurosatory the HERO 120 and HERO 400EC were visible at the UVision booth, together with some of the SpearUAV solutions, however HEROs were also exhibited on the Rheinmetall stand, integrated on two platforms, the unmanned Mission Master XT and on the new Panther main battle tanks. How much the contacts established at the Paris exhibition, in the wake of the increasing interest for LMs will transform into contracts will be seen in the near future.