Police air units – helicopters vs UAS

A recent visit to the Israeli police air unit has again proved that the transition from helicopters to unmanned air systems (UAS) for homeland security and police missions is not a simple one.

During the visit to the highly classified unit, which operates police missions and what is generally referred to as homeland security – or more bluntly anti-terror missions – this problem became very clear.

The unit commander revealed that the Elbit Systems SkyLark 1 – used by the infantry units of the Israeli defence forces (IDF) – was evaluated, adding: “[The police] found that it does not answer our needs. But we are looking for some unmanned systems.”

The high-ranking officer said he prefers a larger UAS – not a “personal” one that gives soldiers “behind the hill” capability.

“We think that for our needs we will prefer a larger UAS operated from a base and with the capability to transmit real-time video to anywhere it is needed,” he adds.

Israeli UAS manufacturers see the air unit of the Israeli police as a good potential customer, and there is no doubt that some other systems will be evaluated soon.

One other factor works in favor of UAS in police missions in Israel – the unit does not perform rescue missions. These are performed by the Israel air force’s 669 squadron, which operates Blackhawks and CH-53′s

But there is a problem, unique to the operation of UAS by the Israeli police. While the IDF and IAF operate their UAS mostly over open areas, the police will use them over populated areas.

The officer adds: “This will increase the price of a flight hour dramatically, as we will have to pay for insurance in case a civilian is hurt by one of the unmanned platforms.”

Israeli airspace is very small and very congested. The unit has to coordinate each mission with the IAF, which actually “rules” the skies over Israel

And there is another major problem faced by many police forces which want to use UAS for routine missions – the regulations that enable UAS to fly freely are in the making, with many concerns arising and acting as brakes to the process.

Will that change? No doubt – but it will take time. Israeli experts say that most of the missions performed today by the unit can be handed over to UAS, but these experts are not decision-makers.


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