Elbit Systems has been awarded $180m for the first purchase order of three Watchkeeper X tactical unmanned aerial systems (UASs) to the Romanian Ministry of National Defence (MoND).

The contract comes under a framework agreement both parties signed in December 2021.

The Israeli defence company’s delivery provides three out of seven Watchkeeper X aircraft to Romania with a maximum value of approximately $410m. Elbit will deliver the purchase order over a period of two years.

Elbit will provide upgraded Watchkeeper X UAS with advanced capabilities: including the Spectro XR multi-spectral electro-optical payload – which offers identification and tracking capabilities – and new communication capabilities.

The Watchkeeper X tactical, dual payload UAS is the UK export variant of the British Army manufactured by UAV Tactical Systems Ltd (U-TacS), Elbit Systems’ UK subsidiary in co-operation with Thales, and is a derivative of the Hermes UAS family.

The Watchkeeper X is compatible with Nato standards enabling essential interoperability with Nato and other allied forces.

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Bezalel Machlis, President and CEO of Elbit Systemscommented: “As part of the contract execution, Elbit Systems plans to establish infrastructure and industrial co-operation with U-TacS, Aerostar and Elbit Systems’ subsidiaries in Romania to produce the UAS in Romania.

“We also appreciate the continued support and collaboration with the Israeli and UK governments and our business partners on the Watchkeeper programme.”

Bringing the Watchkeeper X to Nato

The global military UAS market was valued at $7.9bn in 2022 and will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.2% to reach a value of $12bn by 2032. The cumulative value of the global military UAS market is anticipated to reach $109.9bn over the forecast period.

While the Asia-Pacific region – supported by China, India, Australia, Japan, and South Korea with their multi-year procurement programmes – is expected to lead the investment in the sector globally, Elbit’s contract marks its desire to meet Nato and European country demands for UAS products.

The military alliance has been expanding its ties with the global defence industry as the war in Ukraine has spurred countries into a stronger defence posture.

Investment in the UAS domain in Europe is primarily driven by forward-looking development programmes such as the Future Combat Air System and the European MALE RPAS programme and the maritime heavy lift UAS programmes, among others.

As the Ukraine crisis is showing no signs of decreasing, many countries bordered by Russia and Ukraine are arming themselves for a possible escalation of the conflict. Poland, Finland and Norway are acquiring US-made UAS to increase surveillance on their borders and counter any form of military aggression.

As Russia stands firm against the eastward expansion of Nato, it is becoming evidently clear that countries on the eastern flank face an uncertain security outlook in the future. Therefore, major countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy are investing in “Eurodrone” for sharing joint defence capabilities against a common threat.

Therefore, the increase in the range, combat, and surveillance functions of modern UASs is being considered ideal not only for keeping a check on the internal security of a nation but also on regional security.