Elbit System was awarded a framework contract with a maximum value of approximately $410 million (approximately 1.89 billion Lei) to supply up to seven “Watchkeeper X” tactical unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for the Romanian Ministry of National Defence, with a validity of five years. No specific purchase order under the contract was awarded yet.
Romania’s state-owned defense company Romtehnica, acting as a representative of the country’s Ministry of National Defence, has signed a framework agreement with Israel’s Elbit Systems to buy up to seven Watchkeeper X drones.
The deal, which is valued at up to 1.89 billion lei ($410 million) before value-added tax, comes as numerous Eastern European allies are accelerating their acquisitions of unmanned aircraft in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As part of the agreement, Romanian defense industry players are to secure domestic manufacturing and servicing capacities for the tactical drones, the ministry said in a statement. The deal is valid for five years.
Bezalel (Butzi) Machlis, President and CEO of Elbit Systems, commented: “This contract demonstrates the sustained demand for Elbit Systems’ UAS. We look forward to further strengthening Elbit Systems’ relationship with the Romanian Government. As part of the contract execution, Elbit Systems plans to establish infrastructure and industrial cooperation 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 program. “
“Starting with the third Watchkeeper X system, the adjacent electrical and mechanical systems will be manufactured in Romania, by economic operators acting in the national defense industry,” the statement said. “The complex maintenance works throughout the life-cycle of the Watchkeeper X systems will be provided by domestic economic operators, in order to avoid the provision of these services by foreign companies during crisis situations or wartime.”
Watchkeeper is based on the Elbit Hermes 450 drone. The UAV is manufactured by U-TacS, a joint venture in which Elbit Systems holds a 51 percent stake, and Thales UK the remaining 49 percent of the shares.
Romania’s investment is part of a regional trend. Last October, Poland’s Ministry of National Defence signed a contract to lease a set of MQ-9A Reaper drones from US manufacturer General Atomics. The move came as the ministry is readying a purchase of the unmanned aircraft.
In Lithuania, the country’s government has allocated additional funds for the purchase of Switchblade drones from the United States, with a deal expected to be signed until the end of 2022, according to Lithuania’s Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas.
Other eastern flank, allies which are in the process of procuring drones to their armed forces include the Czech Republic and Moldova.