An Israeli soldier launches a Skylark unmanned aerial vehicle near the border with Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Lt.-Col. Reut Retig Weiss officially became the first woman to become battalion commander of the IDF’s Artillery Corps drone unit at a ceremony on Sunday and the second Israeli woman ever to be appointed commander of a combat unit.
“Almost seven years ago I was present at the founding ceremony for the unit and never in my wildest dreams did I think that one day I would command it. It’s an extraordinary privilege and a tremendous mission,” said Retig Weiss, who had previously served as a deputy battalion commander in the Artillery Corps.
The unit, which was established in 2010, is one of the Artillery Corps’ most prestigious special units. Teams from the unit participated in Operation Pillar of Defense as well as Operation Protective Edge, receiving a citation from the head of the Southern Command for its work during the last war with Hamas in Gaza. There has also been a significant increase in the unit’s operational activity on all borders.
“The Sky Rider unit is facing a challenging period in which it will be required to lead with all its capabilities and excel in them, to prepare for war, for training, for routine tasks and to absorb all new capabilities that will change the future of the air-land space. I am sure that together we will be able to face any challenge,” Retig Weiss said.
One of the drones operated by the unit, the Skylark, is considered an effective and popular drone, but there have been several crashes since it was delivered to the ground forces in 2010.
Members of the IDF's Sky Rider Unit in operation
The Skylark, built by Elbit Systems, is the IDF’s smallest drone, with a wingspan measuring just over 3 meters and operates on all fronts for tactical surveillance. It can be launched by one or two soldiers and can be operated on the roof of buildings or in the back of armored personnel carriers, providing live-video to operators once airborne.
Teams from the unit are assigned to other ground force units and operate the drones to provide tactical support and provide intelligence to company commanders and even brigade commanders.
In 2014, Lt.-Col. Oshrat Bacher became the first woman in Israel to command a combat formation when she was named as commander of the Southern Command’s combat intelligence-gathering battalion.
An estimated 90% of the positions in the IDF are now open to women, including combat roles in the navy, Home Front Command, Artillery Corps and Military Police in the West Bank. Other combat posts that have been cleared for female soldiers include operating the Spike (Tamuz) missile.
But despite the push for more female combat soldiers, combat units remain overwhelmingly male, with women still accounting for only 7% of front-line troops. Nevertheless, that is an increase from 3% four years ago when the number of female combat soldiers stood at around 500, to more than 2,100 in 2015, and according to a senior officer in the IDF’s Personnel Directorate, a record 2,500 women are expected to serve in combat roles this year.