In May, IAI announced it would begin leasing one of its systems, the Heron unmanned aerial system (UAS), to Greece for border security purposes. The maritime configuration of the UAV is being leased to Greece over three years at the end of which the country can purchase the UAS.

Explaining the advantages of leasing UAVs, IAI Malat (UAS) head of marketing Dan Bichman told Air Force Technology: “IAI’s leasing system democratises UAS usage by allowing countries with smaller defence budgets to receive a top-level system for a fraction of the price. The programme allows countries to receive a service that’s usually quite expensive, levelling, to a certain extent, the playing field with countries who can buy their own systems.

“The programme also offers a low-risk investment for these countries because they’re able to customise the UAS to fit their needs and can buy the system when the leasing contract is completed with the confidence they’re buying a UAS that is perfectly fit for them.”

IAI said it has leasing agreements with Australia, Canada, Germany, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex, and Israel’s Ministry of Defense (IMOD), on top of the recently announced deal with Greece. However, the company said more parties that cannot be named at this time are interested in the programme.

Under the lease-to-buy scheme, all of IAI’s UAS systems are available. The terms of the lease itself are not also limited to just the system Bichman explained but also can include everything needed to operate the UAS including personnel.

Bichman said the offering includes: “All of IAI’s UAS that are for sale, from the smallest to the largest (the Heron TP). A lease can contain a wide range of services that meet the customer’s needs. It can be all-inclusive, with IAI providing the system, control station, operators, maintenance, and more, or it can be as scaled back as the customer desires, with the customer handling all of the operations.

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“IAI can also provide drone operator training to the client. Data from the systems can be transmitted in real-time to any site in the world that the customer desires. The structure of the lease is completely flexible.”

Leasing is also a market IAI thinks will only get bigger in the near future, as countries’ gross domestic product (GDP) and in turn their defence spending are hit by the effects of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. Leasing systems will allow countries with tighter budgets to access the same technologies as those with sovereign industries or deep enough pockets to purchase UAS outright.

Bichman explained: “With newly-tightened budgets due to the economic repercussions of Covid-19, countries and government bodies will increasingly look towards drone and system

leasing to save money while still investing in the latest technologies to keep their citizens safe.

IAI stressed that another aspect of the programme was the convenience and cost of leasing UAS.

Bichman said: “Through our drone leasing programme, our customers are leasing an end-to-end service, not just a system, from a company with decades of expertise, making it a great solution for a country whose budget may prohibit them from buying a multipurpose drone platform [that] can be adapted for different tasks relatively quickly, i.e. border defence, disaster relief, search and rescue, and others.

“The programme allows them to lease a service which includes the UAS, and can also include operations, maintenance, and other features from IAI depending on their needs.”

IAI’s Malat UAS division manufactures the Heron UAS which can operate across land, air and naval domains, alongside some other smaller systems.