A common sight during the Gaza war, IDF’s reliance on aerostat balloons is up

RT’s balloons gather intelligence for the army but can do a whole lot more.

RT’s SKYSTAR 180 aerostat (photo credit: RT LTA SYSTEMS LTD.)
RT’s SKYSTAR 180 aerostat
(photo credit: RT LTA SYSTEMS LTD.)
Two months after the end of Israel’s war with Hamas, the Yavne-based RT defense company, which played a crucial role in the IDF’s operations in Gaza, has returned to a normal pace.
But like the military – its chief client – the company is preparing for imminent security challenges along Israel’s borders.
RT produces a series of aerostats it calls the Skystar family, and these are, according to company CEO Rami Shmueli, in high and growing demand.
The IDF’s Combat Intelligence Collection Unit uses the Skystar 180 and 300 aerostats for a variety of missions, which include, but are not limited to tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The Sykstar 180 rises to an altitude of 300 meters and can carry a payload of up to 6.5 kg.
The Skystar 300 tactical aerostat can soar up to 460 meters, and is able to carry real-time tactical surveillance payloads.
The notion that the aerostats are low-tech devices is off the mark, Shmueli said last week. Deploying them is “like building a 300-meter tower in 20 minutes,” he said.
And just about anything can be mounted on top of the “tower.”
The aerostats were a common sight during the summer to anyone traveling near the Gaza border.
Attached to a ground station by a tethering cable, which transmits power, data, and two-way communications, the platforms raise a range of electro-optical payloads, including high-definition day-and-night sensors, and intelligence systems.
“Within six hours of receiving notice, we can set ourselves up on the border and get an aerostat in the air,” Shmueli added.
“Ten years ago, we received a request from the IDF, which wanted something new. It wanted an aerostat that is easy to operate and cheap. After three years of development...a prototype was developed, and the Skystar aerostat was born,” he continued.
The IDF activated 13 balloons for various purposes during Operation Protective Edge in July and August, helping the IDF track in real time threats in combat sectors.
Soldiers from the Combat Intelligence Collection units can operate the systems after just two weeks of training.
“We learned that to make it simple, there should be no gauges, just signs saying ‘good or not good.’ It’s like a car driver who doesn’t need to know how the engine works but can operate the gas, breaks and steering wheel. The operators don’t need to know physics to operate the aerostat,” said the CEO.
As a result, the IDF has never lost a balloon, Shmueli said.
The platforms are also in demand around the world, and have been used in 42 missions internationally, serving dozens of international clients.