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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

The new cengtury has seen the rise of the role of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in militaries around the world. According to David Rodman's article, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the service of the Israeli Air Force, "in terms of technological sophistication of its UAS force, Israel is unquestionably well ahead of the pack. Only the United States (US) is in the same league."

Compared to the US, who's turbulent UAS history has led to a disjointed environment that is limited by debates over mission requirements, inter-service rivalry over UAS development, and relatively low morale, Israelís UAS history has been relatively stable. Since the 1970ís, Israel has taken steps to expand and improve the mission effectiveness of its UAS fleet. Overall, the Israelis have been pioneers in the UAS industry.

Although Israel was not the first country to indigenously produce UASs, it was among the first to use UASs in combat operations. The United States used Lightning Bug and Buffalo Hunter drone aircraft during the Vietnam War in the 1960ís and were the leaders in UAS technology in the late 1960ís and early 1970ís. In fear that Egyptís surface-to-air missile systems would put the lives of aircrew at risk, Israel took advantage of the US UAS technology and acquired Teledyne Ryanís long range UAS, the Firebee, from the Unites States. In July 1971, Israel received the first twelve Firebees and carried out the first operational flight in September in the area of the Suez Canal to aid in finding the location of a downed IAF plane. Also during this period, Israel acquired 27 of Northropís small UAS, the Chukar, designed to draw enemy antiaircraft fire.

During the Yom Kippur War, both the Chukar and the Firebee saw extensive action. During the war, Israel launched Chukars toward the Golan Heights, and made the Syrians believe that a large formation of combat planes were going to strike their antiaircraft positions. The subsequent firing of Syrian antiaircraft weapons allowed the Israelis to identify their firing positions and eventually destroy them. During the war, Israel launched twenty-three Chukars and five did not return.5 Israel used their Chukars mostly in the north and they used their Firebees on the Egyptian front in the south. During the 12 days of fighting, Firebees conducted 19 flights and 10 were either shot down or crashed.

Following the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli operational UAS focus diverged from the US operational focus as the US concentrated its efforts on the Central Front in Europe. During this period, the Israelis began an effort to produce their own indigenous UASs focusing on their reconnaissance and security needs. The US Air Force UASs developed during the 1970s were designed to accomplish three missions in a major war in Europe against Warsaw Pact forces: 1) weapon delivery against heavily protected targets; 2) tactical electronic and optical reconnaissance (both high and low altitude); and 3) electronic combat (jamming and chaff dispensing).7 In contrast, the Israeliís operational focus was on defensive security including EW and reconnaissance. The already proven capabilities of the Chukar in the EW realm allowed Israel to focus their UAS development on reconnaissance.

Six years after the Yom Kippur War, the Israelis developed their own UAS, the Israeli Aircraft Industry's (IAI) Scout. The Scout was an improvement over the Firebee and could perform reconnaissance by broadcasting pictures from a stabilized camera. The Scout saw its first combat activity during the Lebanon missile crisis in 1981. During the crisis, which served as a preview for the First Lebanon War, the Scout successfully broadcasted real-time pictures of the Syrian antiaircraft systems deployed in the area. 8 During the First Lebanon War, the Israelis used the Scout for intelligence collection including locating antiaircraft batteries and armored vehicles, conducting battle damage assessment (BDA), and locating fallen aircraft. Israel also used the Firebee and Chukar in the First Lebanon war, but with less operational success than the Scout.

Israel continued to use both the Firebee and the Chukar into the 1990s. The Chukar remained in the Israeli Air Force inventory until 1990 and the Firebee until 1996. During the late 1970ís and into the 1980ís, Israel overtook the US as the leader in the UAS industry. During this time, Israel developed and fielded the most capable reconnaissance UAS systems in the world. Israel developed small MALE UASs such as the Pioneer that could provide long duration reconnaissance in a low threat environment. In contrast, the US attempts to develop very large and complex UASs, such as the BGM-34C multi-mission UAS and the MR-UAV (Medium Range Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), failed due to budget cutbacks, cost overruns and competition with other systems. Instead of pursuing these UASs, the US eventually focused their acquisition efforts on cruise missiles, stealth, and standoff weapons. As a result, leading into The Gulf War the US did not have a reconnaissance UAS in its aircraft inventory. To fill this gap, the US purchased the Pioneer from Israel.

In the later years, there were many instances of US defense contractors collaborating with IAI contractors to develop UAS systems. A good example of this interaction is the partnership between General Dynamics and Elbit to develop Hermes and Skylark systems for the US department of defense.

Despite its size, Israel has developed a UAS program that is one of the best in the world. The IAF's ability to focus its UAS development efforts and aircrew training to meet its ongoing mission requirements forms the basis of its operational effectiveness. Israelís combative past, combined with its excellent defense industry helped it continually improve its UAS programs.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2022 15:25:53 ZULU