Unmanned aerial vehicles in Israel: reasons for leadership

Light reconnaissance UAV IAI Bird-Eye 650. Photo by IAI

Israel is deservedly considered the world leader in the field of unmanned aerial systems for military purposes. His companies are constantly developing new samples of such equipment of different classes, proposing and implementing original concepts. The Israel Defense Forces already have hundreds of UAVs of different types in service, and a number of samples are exported and provide their country with the first place in the world market.

Development trends

Israeli work on the topic of UAVs started in the early seventies, has been going on for half a century and, apparently, will never stop. Initially, it was only about light reconnaissance vehicles and radio-controlled targets. Then other directions and concepts were mastered, both already known and proposed independently. As a result, to date, Israeli developments in the field of UAVs cover all major classes and niches.

Unmanned aerial vehicles in Israel: reasons for leadership

Launch of the drone Elbit Skylark III. Photo Elbit Systems

A large number of companies with different competencies work in the UAV field. At the same time, only a few of the largest create the bulk of projects and serial products. The main manufacturer of such equipment is Israel Aerospace Industries. In second place is Elbit Systems. Other Israeli organizations do not yet have similar engineering and commercial success.

Israeli companies almost completely meet the needs of the IDF in the UAV. Purchases of foreign equipment are minimal and take place only in certain classes. At the same time, measures are being taken to import substitution of foreign complexes and to create their own analogs, which are often successful.

Launch of the Harop loitering ammunition. Photo by IAI

With their developments, companies are successfully entering the international market. Solid experience and high quality of products, often outstripping foreign competitors in terms of characteristics, allow us to regularly win tenders and receive orders. Depending on the customer’s requirements, Israeli companies supply ready-made complexes or assembly kits, as well as provide production licenses. To date, more than 50 countries of the world have purchased Israeli UAVs. In recent years, Israel has occupied approx. 40% of the drone market.

For your army

The IDF is armed with several hundred UAVs of different classes; their exact number and breakdown by type are not disclosed for reasons of secrecy. One of the main operators of unmanned aerial vehicles is the ground forces. Their units have a large fleet of unmanned systems of various types. Most of it is made up of reconnaissance UAVs of ultralight and light classes. Also, the army is supplied with the so-called. loitering ammunition – reconnaissance and strike systems capable of conducting reconnaissance and hitting a target with its own warhead.

Products of the Hero family. UVision graphics

UAVs of different classes are used by all branches of the armed forces. Motorized infantry and tank subunits with their help conduct reconnaissance of enemy positions; for the same purpose, UAVs are used by special forces. Infantry and special forces, if necessary, launch loitering ammunition. Artillery units use drones as their primary means of target detection and fire adjustment.

UAVs of the Bird-Eye series from IAI have become widespread in the army. This line includes four products with a take-off weight from 1.3 to 8.5 kg, capable of conducting reconnaissance at ranges up to 10 km from the operator. In recent years, more compact samples, such as the IAI Ghost, etc., have entered service. The IAI Skylark I light UAVs and the Skylark II / III medium UAVs remain in service.

It is believed that it was Israel that formed and for the first time implemented the modern concept of loitering ammunition. As a result, the IDF ground forces are armed with several complexes of this class. The first was the IAI Harpy. This is a 135-kg drone with a warhead weighing 32 kg, capable of flying 500 km. The newer Harop UAV is lighter and carries a 23 kg warhead, but shows a range of 1000 km.

Medium UAV Elbit Hermes 450. Photo by Elbit Systems

UVision has developed seven lightweight Hero ammunition. In terms of their characteristics, they are inferior to the larger Harpy and Harop, but this provides more flexibility in the use of combat UAVs. So, the Hero 30 product weighs only 3 kg, carries a warhead weighing 500 g and flies at a distance of up to 40 km. The largest representative of the line, the Hero 900 stays in the air for up to 7 hours, carries a 20-kg warhead and is capable of patrolling within a radius of 250 km from the operator. Some of Hero products have been put into trial operation.

Aircraft equipment

The Israeli ground forces lack medium and heavy UAVs. Such systems, the operation of which imposes certain restrictions on basing and launching, are supplied to the air force. It is known about the existence of at least 3-5 reconnaissance and strike unmanned squadrons on vehicles of various types. In addition, the Air Force is armed with loitering ammunition.

Heavy Hermes 900. Photo by Elbit Systems

The Hermes family from Elbit Systems is represented in the middle and heavy classes. Hermes 90/450/900 drones have a takeoff weight of 115 to 1100 kg and are capable of carrying a load of 25-350 kg. Long flight duration is provided, but the combat radius is limited by the characteristics of the communication system. UAVs of three types are used for optical and electronic reconnaissance, for relaying signals, etc. The largest Hermes 900 can carry some types of guided weapons.

Several heavy UAVs IAI Heron entered service. This vehicle has a mass of 1.15 tons and carries a payload of 250 kg. A large supply of fuel and an economical engine allow it to fly for up to 50-52 hours. The load consists of optical or radio-electronic means.

UAV of heavy class IAI Heron. Photo by IAI

The largest and heaviest in the IDF Air Force is the IAI Eitan / Heron TP UAV. This is a machine with a wing span of 26 m and a take-off weight of 5.4 tons, of which up to 1-2 tons falls on the payload. Eitan has a top speed of over 400 km / h and can stay aloft for over 30 hours. It is reported that such a UAV is capable of performing reconnaissance and strike missions. Moreover, this type of technique has already been used in real operations.

Leadership reasons

For many years, Israel has deservedly been considered at least one of the world leaders in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles. This is confirmed both by the widespread use of such equipment in his own army, and by the large number of foreign orders. It’s easy to see that there are several key factors behind this success.

Eitan is Israel’s heaviest reconnaissance and strike UAV. Photo by IAI

The first is a fairly early start of work. By the time some other countries were just considering the possibility of developing UAVs, the Israeli industry already had a lot of experience in this area. In addition, the IDF command quickly assessed the potential and prospects of the unmanned direction and provided the necessary support. Due to her, the development of projects was accelerated, and new models were adopted for service, helping to gain experience.

The systematic and constant development of the defense industry as a whole and its individual branches over time created a large reserve for the development of promising UAVs with higher characteristics. At first, only the IDF used this, and then Israeli companies managed to enter the international market, where their successful developments found their place.

To date, Israel has become one of the world’s largest manufacturers and operators of military unmanned aerial vehicles. In addition, this country is performing well in the international market. The events of recent years and current developments suggest that this situation will continue in the future.

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