The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is without question the most experienced of armed services when it comes to the operational utilisation of tactical unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).

Deployed in earnest during the Bekaa Valley in 1982, the UAV is well established in the IDF's armoury. There is little sign other than that the tempo of UAV operations with the IDF will increase, as the systems grow in sophistication and capability.

Israeli air force commander Maj Gen Eitan Ben-Eliahu believes: "More and more missions are going to go this way," a sentiment echoed by Ovadia Harari, executive vice-president at Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), the Malat unit of which is a major UAV manufacturer.

The IDF uses UAVs in a variety of roles including short range and medium range day/night reconnaissance and target acquisition. Alongside passive sensor-based UAVs, the air force also uses the IMI Delilah and Harpy attack drones as counter-radar weapons.

Hard kill

Harari believes that the shift from "passive" mission roles, such as reconnaissance, to a hard kill capability will inevitably continue to expand. He suggests that, over the next few decades, many roles which are now met by crewed aircraft will be fulfilled by UAVs, or uninhabited combat air vehicles, as such systems have been named in the USA.

IAI's Malat unit now produces the Ranger, and Eye-View short range UAVs, the Searcher 12h-endurance UAV, and the Hunter and Heron medium range long endurance platforms. Silver Arrow produces long endurance UAVs.

Standard payloads for the present generation of systems include electro-optical day/night vision systems, video and communications relays, radar, target designators, and electronic warfare packages.

UAVs are also viewed as having a significant role to play in Israel's ability to assemble a credible ballistic missile defence.

In co-operation with the USA, the Israeli defence ministry is looking at using a long endurance UAV to carry a long-range air-to-air missile as a boost phase intercept system. Under the IBIS/MOAB programme, an Israeli-developed medium range missile would be carried by the UAV, which would loiter over known missile sites.

Equipped with an long range infrared (IR) or imaging infra-red (IIR) sensor, the UAV would identify the missile launch, and the intercept missile would then be fired.

The missile itself would also be fitted with an IR or IIR sensor for the terminal stage of the engagement. It is likely that a datalink would be used to provide target update information to the intercept missile during its flight. The exact future of the programme, however, remains in question as the result of funding pressure in the USA.

The probable next step for the air force, is to begin to explore the potential for UAVs to start to take certain roles fulfilled by crewed aircraft.

It remains to be seen whether the air force will be satisfied with merely watching US developments or whether it may pursue its own technology demonstration programme. One option could be to look at using the Lockheed Martin F-16 airframe as the basis for a technology demonstrator, an are which has already been looked at by the aircraft manufacturer.

Source: Flight International