The Elbit-made Hermes 900 unmanned aerial vehicle can disrupt the activity of any enemy that attacks Israel, and brings with it a real improvement in real-time intelligence gathering capabilities, IAF officers responsible for its operations told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
The medium-altitude, long-endurance drone came into service during a sped-up process in the first days of last summer’s Gaza conflict.
Maj. O. [full name withheld], head of the Hermes 900 Elbit Department and an IAF drone squadron operator, led the development and introduction of the drone.
Col. E., commander of the air force’s UAV, Intelligence, and Electronic Warfare Branch, said several future advanced drone programs are currently under development.
The Hermes 900, dubbed Star in the IAF, “significantly increased real-time intelligence we are able to gather,” said Col. E. These enhanced abilities can be used in flights over any sector, whether to Israel’s north, or over the Gaza Strip, he added.
The Hermes 900 can fly with more complex sensors and provide better optics. “This allows us to do quite a few things. It is a breakthrough in our ability to investigate, to see better. This helps the IAF to prevent harm to noncombatants. It has the ability to see down to a resolution that can tell us if the person on the ground is man, woman, terrorist or journalist,” he added.
Other on-board technologies remain classified.
The Hermes 450, also produced by Elbit, could not carry the heavy sensory payload carried by its newer relative, the officers explained. “This is the advantage,” said Col E.
The improvement in intelligence gathering goes beyond electro-optical sensors, Col. E. added.
The Hermes 900 “is a flagship product that we are developing.
Col. E. said, describing it as a kind of “taxi that delivers sensors” to the relevant areas. “It depends on wireless communications, a ‘brain,’ and an ability to operate it from the ground,” he said.
Maj. O., a graduate of the select IDF Talpiot technological program, paid tribute to the Hermes 900’s new computerized automation abilities, which he described as “much more advanced than those of previous drones.”
“It brought a significant improvement in the working environment of the operator, affecting the things he can do and see,” he added.
The Hermes 900 “knows how to do everything [other drones can do], but more,” said Col. E.
“It can fly longer range, spend much longer time in the air, and carry bigger payloads. It is based on the Hermes 450. The rational here is to multiply the capability.
Its all-weather mission abilities are also more enhanced. The UAV sits on the existing infrastructure [of the Hermes 450 ground stations].
It is based on existing components.
This leads to more efficient economic models; we know what we are buying. This platform, when calculating how much it will cost to operate over its life cycle in the coming decades, displays efficiency.”
The IAF’s newest unmanned platform can take off and land automatically – the first to come ready with this feature.
The Hermes 900 flew extensive missions during Operation Protective Edge, bringing the air force “very big” results, said Col. E.
Its procurement is a sign of things to come, he added.
“If you ask me, the balance between manned and unmanned systems will continue to go in the favor of the unmanned. Within a decade to two decades, we will see around two-thirds of aerial systems being unmanned, and a third still piloted. I think this is the right direction to go in.”
UAVs take less time to develop and mature, are cheaper than fighter jets, and require less of an emphasis on safety features. They are primed to carry out “dirty, dull, and dangerous” missions, said the officer.
And yet pilots are still essential, he argued, particularly for aerial missions that help establish deterrence.
“There are missions that the IAF will still want someone to be in the loop.”
“We are deep in the process of developing future systems. This is a strategic decision – that we develop things here in Israel. We are bringing defense industries to the technological cutting edge.
The industries know how to work together when required. They combine the on-board sensors, and this is an advantage. Few other states can create products at this level, he said.
Maj. O. described the sped-up delivery process that was launched in the first few days of Operation Protective Edge last summer.
The drone development program, he said, was on verge of being complete.
“The Star was marked out as being sufficiently ripe with its capabilities, which cannot be detailed but which set it apart from other platforms. It was ready for operational flights.”
What came next were 72 hours of intensive final preparations.
“Within three days, we carried out a proof test flight, with all of our partners in the IAF and the Defense Ministry, and with impressive devotion from Elbit.” The Hermes 900 passed with flying colors.
“We prepared to become operational,” said Maj. O. at the time.
Soon afterward, the Hermes 900 was flying many missions over the Gaza Strip.
“To do this in 72 hours, with all of the infrastructure and personnel readiness, and to say with full confidence that this system is ready, is remarkable,” added Col. E.
The Hermes 900 went on to fly for more than a month.
The officers were unable to discuss in detail the drone’s classified Electronic Warfare capabilities, though it is believed that these are advanced.
Col. E. said that Israel is a global power in the world of drones, referring to the fact that Israel is the second- largest exporter of drones in the world (or the largest, depending on reports).
“One of the reasons for this is that Israel has a lot of operational experience in battlefield. This is something that the IAF specializes in a lot, through the years of conflicts that we have been forced to deal with,” he added.
The close relationship between the IDF, the ministry, and Israel’s defense industries are key to swift development of technologically advanced drones, he said.
The IAF and ministry are able to relay their needs to the defense industries– a job fulfilled by Maj. O. in the case of the Hermes 900 drone – and the industries act to deliver rapidly.
As a result, Israel will have the option to fly advanced drones in a range of areas, from zones that have experienced a breakdown in state authority and a growth of terrorist entities, where “we need to know to strike them if needed,” said Col. E., to being able to deal with fullfledged state rivals.
“The IAF is very much on the cutting edge of this. We cannot allow ourselves not to be at the forefront,” he said.