The Defense Ministry on Sunday announced that a cutting-edge Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) surveillance aircraft has successfully integrated new intelligence systems, another major step toward final delivery.
The aircraft received a special visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in June and could be potentially used for surveillance of all of Israel’s enemies on its borders like Syria, as well as more distant countries, like Iran.
A statement by the ministry's Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) said "The ORON is the world’s most advanced aircraft of its kind," but neither the statement nor a spokeswoman could give an actual timeline, suggesting deployment is still a minimum of months away.
The Jerusalem Post understands that development for the aircraft and its new technologies date back to 2015.
The ministry did say that test flights have commenced and that a rent ceremony was held to celebrate "the intelligence systems’ successful integration into the cutting-edge ORON aircraft.
This achievement represents a significant milestone in the aircraft’s development and testing program. The ORON aircraft will now advance to the joint test flight phase conducted by the Israeli Air Force and IAI."
The MARS 2 spy aircraft mixes together many of the physical aspects of the older Gulfstream G550 aircraft with a host of newly installed technologies.
Moreover, the Oron has eight intelligence collection operator workstations, multi-domain sensors and a much higher level artificial intelligence (AI) capability for coordinating and systematically sharing the multiple intelligence inputs.
This AI also knows how to focus more attention on more immediately actionable intelligence, including selecting some of its own targets.
The aircraft is faster, can fly higher, travel farther, for about 15-16 hours, and its intelligence surveillance capabilities extend farther than other previous spy aircraft in Israel’s repertoire.
In fact, the aircraft can see and analyze issues hundreds of kilometers away, whereas many other systems only detect issues at much closer ranges.
Not only does the aircraft’s spying capabilities have higher resolution, a more sophisticated mix of different sensors and greater interoperability than previous similar aircraft, but it projects its surveillance in all directions.
If previous spy aircraft were focused on an area in front of the aircraft, the MARS 2 can provide a 360 degree plane defense picture.
Previous smaller spy planes could only retain intelligence collected in the range of millions or tens of millions of computer bytes.
In contrast, the MARS2 can carry surveillance information at the tera data (trillions of bytes) covering an area of tens of thousands of kilometers.
At 40 tons, the aircraft is capable of holding physical sensor equipment way beyond what even the largest of drones can carry.
MARS2’s intelligence collection capabilities are not merely superior to other spy planes, but also to the elite F-35 fifth-generation combat aircraft, which comes with powerful intelligence collection capabilities.
The F-35 is the most cutting-edge combat aircraft in existence and has had unparalleled success to date for Israel in a variety of countries. Yet, the fact is that its intelligence systems were developed around 10 years earlier than the newest technologies on the MARS2.
Further, the ministry said that it jointly developed the aircraft with IAI’s ELTA Group, the Israeli Air Force, the Intelligence Corps, and the Navy.
The aircraft will change the playing field
Next, the ministry said that because it is "Equipped with revolutionary sensors and C4I systems, the ORON will provide the IDF with unprecedented intelligence capabilities across expansive terrain, enabling real-time monitoring of ground movements under diverse weather and visibility conditions."
One issue for the aircraft is the cost, with a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars per aircraft, due to its size and the number of technological pieces that come with it.
Sources indicate that many countries are in the mix for purchasing the aircraft, with purchases usually going over a billion dollars as part of buying a package of two to four aircraft, plus all the ancillary items that come with the aircraft.
Various details regarding the aircraft and that it would be operated by the Israeli Air Force’s “Nachshon” 122nd squadron were previously reported by the Jerusalem Post in April.
Lt. Col. Yoed, Head of the ministry's DDR&D Missionized Aircraft Branch stated, "ORON is a joint multi-domain, multi-sensor solution which will provide the IDF with game-changing capabilities to counter threats far and near.
The unique capabilities of the ORON ISR System include the ability to accurately track multiple targets across a wide area of coverage, in all weather and visibility conditions, with high precision over great distances and in real time, enabling a decisive and timely response to all threats.
In addition, Lt. Col. ‘A’, Commander of the IAF's 122nd Squadron responded, “This airborne system has unique capabilities that exemplify the combined strength of all the IDF’s various branches. The IAF's elite 122nd Squadron fully recognizes the great responsibility of effectively utilizing this aircraft and its ability to protect the State of Israel."