Israeli company wants AAI to stop making drones


Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd. has filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., seeking to halt AAI Corp.'s production and marketing of a small drone that was successfully used by U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf war.

IAI, as the Israeli company is called in the defense industry, charges AAI with breach of contract as a result of its continued production and marketing of the drones, technically called remote pilotless vehicles (RPV), after a five-year teaming agreement between the Cockeysville company and the Israeli company expired on Sept. 30, 1990.

In a press release issued late Thursday, AAI announced that the judge hearing the case denied an attempt by Israel Aircraft to prohibitAAI from manufacturing the Pioneer RPV system. The three-sentence statement said: "The court stated that there did not appear to be sufficient likelihood of success on the merits of Israel Aircraft's case to justify the relief requested."

AAI was closed yesterday, and the two company officials who were reached would not comment beyond what was contained in the press release.

Marvin Klemow, director of Israel Aircraft's Washington office, said yesterday that the attempt to get an injunction to halt AAI from marketing and production of the Pioneer or similar systems "is just the first step in a series of legal actions. We intend to pursue this matter vigorously."

According to Mr. Klemow, AAI used "proprietary know-how" passedon to it by Israel Aircraft to built the Pioneer RPVs. "Pioneer is an IAI system, not an AAI system," he said in a telephone interview.

Pioneer is a tiny aircraft, about 14 feet long with a wingspan of 17 feet, powered by a 26-horsepower engine. It carries a camera in its belly. It was flown over enemy territory during the gulf war to feed back live TV coverage of enemy tank, artillery and troop movements. It was also used for damage assessment and to direct artillery shells, fired from battleships in the Persian Gulf, to their targets.

Israel Aircraft makes several drones that look very similar to those produced by AAI.

In 1986, the two companies entered into an agreement to manufacture the drones in the United States.

When that agreement was announced in January 1986, AAI said that it would eventually take over the full production of the drones for the U.S. military at its plant in Cockeysville. AAI has delivered about 80 Pioneers to the U.S. military. Each craft costs about $500,000, and the equipment in them can cost an equal amount, bringing the price for a fully operational drone to $1 million.

Last week, a House and Senate conference committee agreed to add $12.7 million to the Bush administration's supplemental defense budget to replace RPVs that were destroyed or lost during the Persian Gulf war. Mr. Klemow said that Israel Aircraft has no objection to AAI working on any contract already awarded, but he added that the company plans to compete for the new contract to replace those planes lost in the war.

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