It’s been almost a year since female combat intelligence soldiers were first deployed to the border with Lebanon, tasked with collecting real-time intelligence using drones for troops on the ground.
The decision to deploy an all-female unit specializing in drone operations was a game-changer for the sector, as troops from the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps’ 869th “Shahaf” (seagull) Battalion has been able to close the circle against threats across the border within minutes.
Operating new technologies in a tense and complicated environment, the 11 female soldiers, divided into two teams, document and photograph the area.
Lebanon regularly complains about Israeli surveillance drones invading its airspace, but the IDF maintains that such operations are necessary to track Hezbollah’s hostile activities.
Lt. Meitar Kadosh, commander of the battalion’s drone squadron, said that her soldiers are the first women to serve in a combat position on the Lebanese border.
“Combat intelligence began with women along the Egyptian border and then the military realized that it should be on other borders as well,” she said. “There is no difference between men and women in their abilities and the IDF understood that.”
“We have operational missions in the sector every day. Sometimes they are incidents that are published and sometimes not. Our drones play a big part by giving an operational picture for troops,” Kadosh said.
“My troops are guarding Israeli skies.”
Sgt. Dana Colvin, a combat intelligence soldier and drone operator was one of the first soldiers to join the unit, training in Tze’elim before being deployed to the Lebanese border.
“When we first got here, it was relatively new and most missions weren’t in-depth,” she said. “People weren’t sure where to use us best but as time went on we got more missions that were useful for the sector and we also got new drones with better capabilities.”
A year later, not only have they received new platforms, but they have also figured out what techniques are best and bring about more successful missions.
“We’ve played around with what we have – lots of trial and error,” she said. “We see what kind of techniques are more successful and we keep trying to improve them. We know that we have to be patient because not everything is going to work the first time around.”
Colvin, who is from California, wanted to serve in a combat intelligence position but didn’t know about this position when she drafted into the IDF.
“I thought to myself: If I’m already leaving my country I might as well do something that would be totally different and worth it.”
Israel and Lebanon are officially still at war and though the border with Lebanon is relatively quiet, there have been six instances of rocket fire since May.
The drones flown by Kadosh’s troops are “fast, small and effective” and played a significant role during all instances of rocket fire that have taken place since May.
In August, three rockets were fired by Palestinian operatives toward the northern city of Kiryat Shmona. While there was no damage, at least one rocket hit an open field, causing a large fire. Colvin’s team was ordered to fly drones to get a clear picture of the surrounding area as troops on the ground and firefighters brought the fire under control.
“We definitely felt the May conflict up here, but it’s kind of like a wave: sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker,” Colvin said, adding that “on the day-to-day level, we are busy. We can tell if it’s been more active on the other side or not with the number of missions that we have.”
Colvin and her fellow soldiers fly small, off-the-shelf civilian DJI drones and others that are used for reconnaissance missions. Costing several shekels each, these once expensive tools are now extremely affordable for the military, which now has the drones operating along its borders.
“The IDF is really increasing in the world of technology,” Kadosh said. “Drones weren’t used in the past like they are today.”
Nevertheless, these drones have crashed in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip several times in recent years.
And though Colvin has never lost a drone, a friend on her team lost one six months ago.
“It’s not usually something that we can control, but sometimes there are GPS blockers in the area and misunderstandings between units.”
When drones crash in enemy territory, the IDF says that there is no risk of secret technology or classified intelligence being revealed.