Assembly line of WanderB drone fuselage sections. Photo: BlueBird Aerosystems

Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) today signed an agreement to acquire 50% of the equity of BlueBird Aero Systems, an Israeli UAS developer and integrator in the small tactical UAS arena. As part of the transaction, IAI is acquiring the holdings of Piramal Technologies SA from India, which divested its 28.5% holding.

IAI acquired additional shares from Fiberless Access and BlueBird founder Ronen Nadir. Following the acquisition, Nadir will hold 50% of BlueBird shares and continue to serve as the company’s CEO. The value of the acquisition was not disclosed but, previously published reports mentioned it was about $29 million.

“The world moves toward small UAS, that leverages system miniaturization in platform and payloads to benefit users at the tactical and operational level,” Nadir said. In the past these missions were performed by tactical UAS, today, users perform these missions with smaller, more agile platforms, with minimal logistical footprint and operator support. Adding Vertical take-Off and Landing (VTOL) adds another dimension to these platforms, enabling organic, close support to land and naval forces.

WanderB drone assembly. Photo: BlueBird Aerosystems

[wlm_ismember]Together with Bluebird, IAI plans to bring innovative and groundbreaking VTOL technologies to the market. In recent years, both IAI and BlueBird have focused on VTOL capabilities, a category that provides significant benefits to land and naval forces.

Until now IAI has been marketing fixed-wing small tactical drones such as the BirdEye 650 and 650D. IAI also developed the Panther family of VTOL platforms, utilizing a proprietary tri-tilt-rotor design. In contrast, BlueBird has developed and successfully marketed VTOL platforms employing the quad-rotor concept, used with the WanderB-VTOL and ThunderB-VTOL. Operational in Israel and worldwide since 2006, BlueBird’s advanced UAV systems have performed over 52,000 operational sorties and open area support, as well as urban scenarios and tactical mapping on demand (TMOD) for military, HLS, Search and Rescue, and commercial applications.

The acquisition is part of the implementation of IAI’s strategy in the UAS sector, broadening its solutions across low, medium, and upper tiers. Tapping the significant growth in the demand for small tactical UAS and VTOL expected the lower tier, for small tactical UAS for military, HLS, and commercial applications. IAI has been developing systems and technologies in this field for more than two decades but has not been successful in turning those technologies into products.[/wlm_ismember]

[wlm_nonmember]Subscribe to read the background story[/wlm_nonmember]

The acquisition follows a streak of major contracts worth tens of millions of euros, awarded to BlueBird by several foreign customers. These contracts call for the delivery of 100 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAS of various categories. The deals include the supply of about 200 UAS units of WanderB-VTOL Mini UAV and ThunderB-VTOL Tactical UAVs. These drones will be operated by infantry soldiers, armored units, artillery corps, and special forces. The contract marks the largest-ever sale of tactical VTOL UAS. According to Ronen Nadir, Founder, and CEO of BlueBird, that contract marked BlueBird’s success and world leadership in developing cutting edge VTOL solutions.

“Winning these major new contracts brought us to the limelight, emphasizing the potential of a company like BlueBird to become a major power in the market, such a move is possible only with the active support of a strategic partner,” Nadir said. “It illustrates our proven ability to provide cost-effective, reliable, and high-performance solutions that are specifically designed to meet the needs of the modern battlefield,” Nadir added.

“The acquisition of BlueBird is an implementation of this strategy, offering us an important leap forward in developing the next IAI UAV family.” IAI EVP and General Manager of the Military Aircraft Group of IAI, Moshe Levy, said, adding that combined, the company will be able to broaden its portfolio of VTOL products and advanced technologies at competitive prices.

IAI’s move with BlueBird is the latest merger in Israel’s UAS scene. Prior to this move was the buyout of the Silver Arrow company by Elbit Systems in 1990, and Rafael’s acquisition of  Aeronautics Systems last year, for $243.5 million.