Israeli ingenuity: Responding to the growing threat of enemy drones

Even with all of those holes to fill, there is no question after seeing this demonstration that Skylock is on the way to filling some of the gaps and reducing the country’s overall vulnerability.

Skylock's anti drone system flying over Mitzpe Ramon (Yonah Jeremy Bob)
The Mitzpe Ramon desert area seemed as desolate as ever, with no noise or activity as far as we could see in a 360-degree panorama from the mountaintop.
Then suddenly there was a buzzing noise and movement.
A test attack drone had come into visual and auditory range of our position.
Skylock’s anti-drone system had been tracking it for a couple of kilometers on a view screen being monitored by The Jerusalem Post and others, even before the drone entered visual range. When it was close enough for us to see, Skylock took control and froze the drone in a hovering position.
Next, it forced the drone to descend on a direct vertical path and land on the ground.
Is this a big part of the answer to the drone threat that Israel is currently facing? In February, an Iranian drone originating in Syria entered Israeli airspace. It was shot down by the Israeli air force, which scrambled a group of F-16 fighters.
One of the F-16 aircraft was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. This was not considered a success from a defense or economic perspective, given the high cost of an F-16 and the future possibility of a coordinated strike by a much larger number of drones.
Last week, the IDF fired a patriot missile at a drone launched from Syria that was approaching the Israeli border.
The missile missed and the drone retreated back into Syria.
In November, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira issued a report stating that the country is extremely unprepared to address the multiple threats presented by drones, either from cross-border terrorism or from unregulated and dangerous domestic use.
Regarding cross-border terrorist drone threats, Shapira said that the IDF “has not developed a complete response” and “needs to immediately carry out more preparatory work” to address the issue.
An Israeli Air Force 2017 intelligence estimate said that the drone threat is part of a technological area moving forward at an extremely fast pace and “is expected to become an integral part of the battlefield during peacetime and wartime.”
It added that the ease of access to drones and jumps in technology, “are expected to transform it into a key part of the enemies’ building of its capabilities.”
SINCE AT least 2016, a group of Israeli defense companies have been in advanced development of anti-drone measures, mostly using jamming technologies to disrupt an enemy drone’s ability to continue receiving instructions from its operators.
According to Israeli security officials the Post spoke with at the Mitzpe Ramon demonstration, Skylock – which is already producing a second-generation system – stands out from the rest in how simple and fast it is to setup and operate.
There was a sizable number of Israeli security officials attending, including from the police, the air force and the army – including officials designing Israeli attack drones who want to learn more about how to avoid being jammed by Skylock.
Some officials indicated that the newest Skylock system has far fewer cables than other anti-drone systems, making it far more mobile and easy to set up on short notice when a threat arises.
Skylock, a division of the Avnon Group, said that its system is also highly flexible in being able to use different kinds of jamming methods depending on whether it is being used in a wet or dry environment. Further, its system can be incorporated into various command centers and incorporates tracking, jamming and even destroying drones using a laser – all in one.
Skylock’s CEO Aviad Matza said that the system can detect large targets 20 km. away, large drones 8-10 km. away and small drones at a distance of around 3.5 km.
He said that the system can track up to 200 targets simultaneously and uses cameras with electro-optical, thermal and daylight capabilities to visually pick up targets as far off as 2.5 km. It can jam on over five bandwidths and can destroy drones with its laser at a distance of 800 meters.
The demonstration witnessed by the Post near Mitzpe Ramon was the first generation of Skylock and was focused on tracking and ordering drones to descend so they could be captured and studied, not on destroying them.
Asked why Skylock was demonstrating its first generation and not its newest product, Matza said that the systems are already being sold and operated. Although Skylock said it could not publicize the names of the countries, it said that three Asian nations are already deploying the system.
The Post spoke to foreign military liaisons, diplomats and businesspeople from North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, who were highly interested in the technology.
SO HAVE Skylock and some of its competitors solved the potentially impending drone-invasion crisis? Even with all of these impressive statistics for Skylock’s system, the fact is that although it can currently track around 200 targets, its take-down ability is more limited.
Its basic system can take down two or three drones at the same time, and even the more advanced system can disable only a few simultaneously.
Some of the company’s competitors are still testing.
Skylock is also working on a future system designed to deal with a swarm of pre-programmed drones as opposed to one in which each drone is operated independently.
Still, these are major advances which can already provide greater security to airports, prisons and at the border, and which could eventually change the defense picture.
But if Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas launched a coordinated strike using a large number of drones, it is still unclear whether Israel has radically changed the picture painted by the comptroller in November.
There still has not been any public report of Israel using anti-drone technology to order an invading drone down or to destroy it with an antidrone laser.
Moreover, there are still questions about Israel’s lax regulatory scheme which does almost no enforcement on the use of drones by Israeli citizens.
This is a defense hole that terrorists could potentially exploit at some point; systems designed to keep targets out of Israel cannot be held responsible for drones activated only after being smuggled into Israel.
Even with all of those holes to fill, there is no question after seeing this demonstration that Skylock is on the way to filling some of the gaps and reducing the country’s overall vulnerability.