Tel Aviv: Israeli loitering weapon systems are combat proven and that brings new clients for that advanced weapon system. The Republic of Estonia has signed an agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to procure advanced long-range loitering munitions, making it the one of the most expensive defence procurement Estonia has ever made.
IAI is making a variety of loitering weapon systems. The most known is the HAROP that played a major role in the Nagorno Karabakh war, when it was operated by Azerbaijan. The HAROP is a standoff loitering attack weapon system designed to locate and precisely attack targets.
The HAROP loitering missile (LM) type platform which serves as an Electro-Optically guided attack weapon. HAROP LMs are launched from ground-based launchers and controlled via a two-way data link for full man-in-the-loop operation.
HAROP is used to attack high-value targets, including full mission capabilities, from search, through attack and up to battle damage assessment. Combining characteristics of a missile and a UAV, HAROP enables effective mission execution without relying on other external systems for targeting and mission intelligence
The HAROP LMs are programmed before launch by the GCS to autonomously fly to a pre-defined “Holding Area”, where they loiter. The MCS periodically checks their position and status during the route to the “Holding Area”. The MCS operator can thus control a number of HAROP LMs that loiter over a “Holding Area”, he can select one LM for target search and attack, while the others are monitored periodically. The operator directs the selected LM to the target area and uses the video image to select a target, and to attack it. The HAROP tracks the target and then dives on it, detonating the warhead upon impact. If required the attack can be aborted and the operator can re-attack with the same LM.
The procurement of long-range loitering munitions aims to strengthen Estonia’s defence capability by significantly increasing its indirect fire capabilities. Along with extended range artillery ammunition, anti-ship missiles, and multiple launch rocket systems, Estonia will have various capabilities to influence the adversary from long distances in the near future.
“Long-range loitering munitions are an important addition to the development of Estonia’s defence capability. The importance of indirect fire cannot be overestimated, as Russia has caused much of the destruction in Ukraine through indirect fire. The introduction of this new capability allows us to attack the enemy from a longer distance. As a result, indirect fire becomes more layered and flexible, increasing the range of fire, which means that the defence forces can hit the enemy where it hurts,” said Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur.
The Estonian Defence Forces’ indirect fire capability is provided by various caliber mortars in the composition of manoeuvre units and self-propelled howitzers in divisional composition. In 2024-2025, multiple rocket launchers and long-range loitering munitions units will also be created within the Defence Forces.
Prior to the procurement of stealth air-launched munitions, a thorough market research was conducted to find the most suitable solution for the defence forces’ needs. Estonia’s order focused primarily on achieving long-range offensive capabilities. Criteria included precision, munition robustness, and wide-ranging simultaneous offensive capability.
“The market for long-range loitering munitions is currently turbulent. Recent conflicts such as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the ongoing war in Ukraine have demonstrated the high effectiveness of this type of offensive weapon, leading to the development of such systems by several countries, with new players expected to enter the market soon. The future of this market will certainly involve intense competition, and the coming years will reveal where these systems will further evolve. Currently, we have made orders for long-range weapons which we cannot disclose the exact specifications of, but in the future, we plan to acquire similar weapons with different technical capabilities and for firing at different ranges,” said Ramil Lipp, armament category manager of the ECDI.
IAI’s President and CEO Boaz Levi, said: “Estonia is a strategic partner for IAI. This award reflects the growing trust and relations between Estonia and our company. IAI offers a family of loitering munition missiles – providing a wide range of solutions from the tactical to the strategic level.”
Levi added, that IAI’s loitering munitions are particularly useful when users seek more flexibility and responsiveness in employing firepower to quickly spot the enemy and act decisively based on the information acquired by the weapon itself in real-time. Loitering munitions are suited for naval or land platforms.
Market research for the procurement of long-range loitering munitions began in the spring of 2022 with the mapping of the first companies. The market research included companies from the USA, Turkey, South Korea, Poland, Germany, Israel, the United Kingdom, and Estonia.
The first deliveries are expected to arrive in 2024, with the necessary training provided to the Defence Forces before deployment. The Defence Forces will be ready to use the systems as soon as they arrive.