How can Israeli air defense systems counter the drone threat?

The drone threat has become significant and requires renewed preparation.

July 22, 2016 10:30
2 minute read.
Hamas made drone

Hamas made drone. (photo credit: HAMAS MEDIA)


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This week's infiltration of a Syrian drone into Israeli airspace, and the failure to intercept it with Patriot missiles, seemingly exposed the limitations of Israel's air defense systems against the threat of such a small and slow unmanned aerial vehicle that could potentially attack targets within the country.

The unmanned aerial vehicle threat is not new, but rather it has existed for many years, operated by various terrorist groups who seek to take advantage of the airspace to penetrate into Israel and carry out terrorist activities.

In 1987, a terrorist from Ahmed Jebreel's group penetrated from Lebanon with an air glider, attacked a vehicle and tent encampment of the IDF's Nahal Infantry Brigade and killed six soldiers. The air defense system was not designed to deal with a threat of this kind.

During the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah attempted to penetrate Israeli air space with Iranian-made Ababil drones, which were eventually shot down by Israel Air Force jets. Another Hezbollah drone was shot down in 2013 off the Haifa coast, where the terrorist organization was likely testing Israel's air defenses. Hamas also has the ability to fly unmanned aerial vehicles into Israel and even tried during Operation Protective Edge to deploy a drone to Tel Aviv.

The penetration of UAVs into Israel is liable to be particularly lethal if the vehicle can carry explosives or weapons and attack targets in Israel while evading dense land defenses, air defenses and the missile defense system.

Recently a new aerial threat has emerged: multirotor drones, or quadcopters. They are cheap, easy to operate, and the largest models can carry a load, which could potentially be explosives. Such quadcopters greatly concern the civilian aerial authority, which fears the security implications, and they should also make Air Force officials lose sleep, mainly those in the Air Defense Command.

The aerial threat posed by drones and quadcopters is a great challenge for the Air Defense Command. Israel is well-prepared today for the threat of planes and ballistic missiles. These are clear and well-defined threats that have been prepared for with an effective identification system and an effective interception system, which includes air defense missiles and jets. Patriot missiles are not intended to deal with the threat of drones and quadcopters. They perform like fighter jets and air-to-air missiles.

Today there are Israeli-made systems for identifying and intercepting aerial threats that are able to act effectively against the drone and quadcopter threat. One of these is the Barak 8 system, which was developed by India and Israel, and is set to be used by the Israeli Navy in the future. It contains advanced identification and interception components which have been sold internationally for use as defense systems to be deployed on land.

First of all, as an immediate answer, the naval defense systems should be combined with the Air Defense Command, so that they operate under a singular, central command when needed. It should include the Barak 8 once it is operational. In the future, it's deployment on land should be considered.

The threat of unmanned aerial vehicles has become serious. They are liable to penetrate the existent defense systems and require renewed preparations. The introduction of quadcopters, and their easy operation, adds a new and significant dimension to the threat. Israel's air defense command must make the necessary adjustments in order to provide a better answer to this threat.

Eliezer Marom was commander of the Israel Navy from 2007 to 2011.

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