President Mikheil Saakashvili has unveiled Georgia’s first domestically produced drone aircraft. The drone is designed for reconnaissance and surveillance, with a photo and infrared camera, and Saakashvili said that it being homegrown means that “no one will share this with others,” apparently referring to an embarrassing episode with previous UAVs that Georgia bought from Israel. After selling the drones to Georgia, Israel reportedly gave Russia data link codes that allowed the Russians to hack into the Georgian drones. The Georgian government hasn’t publicly confirmed those reports, but Saakashvili surely had them in mind when speaking at the drone’s launch, reports Civil.ge:
“When you make procurement from abroad a seller may not give you a full technology or may share technology [bought] by you to your adversary,” Saakashvili said at a presentation of the drone. “No one will share this [pointing to the Georgian-made drone] with others; it’s ours… We no longer depend on others.”
The drone can fly for eight hours, reach an altitude of 3,000 meters and reach a top speed of 160 km/hour, Georgia says. The Georgian Ministry of Defense has video of the demonstration here (and which you can see below). I asked a UAV expert, who asked not to be named, what he thought. He was impressed, but doubted that it was as homegrown as was being portrayed:
This does look like a new UAV, but one thing’s for sure: they had some help or got [the technology] from an advanced nation. That’s pretty a sophisticated design for any country, especially if it’ll do what they say it will, and looks nothing like any other CIS-area products. There are two countries that build airplanes that look like that — Israel and the US… I’d be very interested to find where their payload camera comes from, where the engine comes from and who builds the catapult. Those are things which can be built domestically, but often aren’t. Other countries that ‘build their own’ UAVs often get that equipment from the actual country of origin, since it’s a real pain to design new ones.
Recall that Georgia just recently settled a lawsuit with the Israeli company Elbit over drones that Georgia bought in 2007. Very little about that lawsuit has been made public, and who knows what sort of technology has been acquired from Israel. But we can be pretty sure the datalink codes, if nothing else, are homemade.