Autonomous aerial killers are getting deadlier

Unmanned air systems (UAS) have brought about a revolution of the operational structure of airforces. More and more missions are now performed by UAS in airforces around the world.

This trend is leading to a growing demand for autonomous weapon systems. What we’re actually talking about here is a UAS armed with a warhead that can loiter an area for a long duration, waiting for a target to be exposed.

With demand growing, such systems are being developed and existing ones are being upgraded.

India was one of the first countries to use these loitering weapon systems and the experience has created additional demand.

The Indian airforce is currently evaluating the purchase of additional Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) HAROP Loitering Munition (LM) systems. The first HAROPS purchased in an earlier deal are now being delivered: this contract was signed after a few years of operating the HARPY – an older, less advanced version.

HAROP is a long-endurance LM which can be launched from a variety of platforms, and is equipped with tactical UAV capabilities: high performance FLIR/color CCD EO seeker with 360° hemispherical coverage. It searches, detects, attacks and hits high-value land or sea-based moving targets with pinpoint accuracy at long ranges.

A HAROP unit is comprised of LM launchers and a Mission Control Shelter (MCS) that enables missile control with man-in-the-loop operation, allowing engagement or abort attack commands in real time, avoiding collateral damage.

The HAROP can be applied to a variety of battle scenarios, including low and high intensity conflicts, urban warfare and counter-terror operations.

HAROP LMs are launched from transportable platforms and navigate towards the target area, where they loiter and search for targets. Once a target, static or moving, is detected, it is attacked and destroyed. The attack can be performed from any direction and at any attack angle, which is essential in urban areas. The operator monitors the attack until the target is hit. Another HAROP LM can observe and send real-time video of Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) to the operator. The operator can abort the attack in order to avoid collateral damage, returning the LM to loitering mode, and restart the attack later.

Boaz Levy, IAI’s executive vice president and general manager of missile and space systems, told the Israeli airforce website that the HAROP is essentially a missile that can schedule the moment it hits a target when the operator decides. “After the launch, the HAROP can stay in the air for long periods of time – for several hours at a time – and do so at different altitudes, up to 10,000ft. The ability to change altitudes opens up the possibility of synchronizing the time and direction to the target.”

The HAROP is very advanced and India is not the only country whose military force has come to the operational conclusion that it can be of great use in many types of military confrontations.

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