The IDF is continuing to encrypt its unmanned aerial vehicles amid concern that
Israel’s adversaries have gained technology which enables them to intercept
In the coming months, the Ground Forces Command
will take delivery of a new model of the Skylark I UAV – developed by Elbit
Systems – which will come with a new encryption system aimed at preventing enemy
forces from intercepting its footage.
The Skylark I drone has been
supplied over the past two years to IDF battalions as part of the “Sky Rider
Program,” which was created to provide battalion commanders with their own
aerial surveillance capabilities without needing to rely on the Israel Air
The Skylarks currently in IDF use were recently grounded after the
landing airbag opened unexpectedly on a number of drones in mid-flight. The
Skylark I lands by opening an airbag which it lands on to prevent damage to the
body of the aircraft.
The man-portable Skylark I weighs around 6
kilograms and is designed for “under the clouds” reconnaissance
It can be launched by hand or a catapult and has an operational
endurance of around three hours at altitudes of up to 3,000 feet.
addition to the built-in encryption, the new batch of Skylarks will also include
a control system enabling commanders to switch between UAVs during missions
without interrupting the tracking of a target.
The requirement to encrypt
drones was issued to domestic defense contractors by the IDF in 2010 after a
military probe concluded that Hezbollah succeeded in ambushing a Navy commando
force in 1997 after intercepting surveillance footage of a planned raid in
In what has been called the “Shayetet Disaster,” 11 commandos
from the Navy’s Flotilla 13 – known as the Shayetet – were killed in a Hezbollah
ambush in 1997, including the commander of the force, Lt.-Col. Yossi
The IDF assumption had been that the ambush was random and that
Hezbollah did not have advance intelligence about the raid on the Ansariya Beach
In August 2010, though, Hezbollah Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah
revealed footage from what he claimed was an Israeli UAV that had conducted
surveillance over the area that the commandos were supposed to
After Nasrallah’s press conference, then-IDF Chief of Staff
Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi ordered the Navy, Military Intelligence and the
IDF’s C4I Directorate to establish a panel of experts to investigate whether the
Hezbollah footage was genuine. The team concluded that it was and had been
intercepted during an Israeli surveillance mission over the planned raid area.