As Iranian drone threat increases, Israeli F35s down two - watch

More and more unmanned aerial systems are being used by Iran to attack targets across the region.

 Fragments of an Iranian drone shot downed by Israeli jets on March 15, 2021. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)
Fragments of an Iranian drone shot downed by Israeli jets on March 15, 2021.

Two Iranian Shahed 197 drones heading toward Israel were downed by Israeli F-35i fighter jets last year far beyond the country’s airspace and less than half an hour after they had been identified.

One drone, flying toward Israel from the South, was spotted at around 1:44 a.m. and was shot down at 2:19 a.m. The second one, which was flying in from the East, was identified at 1:46 a.m. and downed at 2:16 a.m.

Interception of two Iranian UAVs by F-35i "Adir" Aircraft, March 15, 2021 (credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit).

The F-35i jets were from the 140th Golden Eagle Squadron and 116th Lions of the South Squadron.

The IDF said it did not know where the drones were launched from, but they “were detected and tracked throughout their flight by ground control units.”

 A map of Iranian UAV attacks.  (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT) A map of Iranian UAV attacks. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)

The fragments of the UAVs were collected and documented by a regional country and shared with the IDF.

“The interceptions of the UAVs were carried out prior to them entering Israeli airspace in coordination with neighboring countries,” the military said, without naming the countries due to security concerns.

The drones that were ferrying weapons to Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip were downed last March by missiles fired by the stealth jets, making it the first time that the aircraft downed unmanned aerial systems (UAS) anywhere in the world.

Israeli officials estimate that Iran was attempting to test whether military equipment could be smuggled to Gaza via drone and if successful, whether more significant weapons could be smuggled in a similar way in the future.

The timing of the IDF announcement late on Sunday night was unclear, but it comes as Israel warns that Iran has been increasingly aggressive in the region while it is continuing to negotiate about its nuclear program with Western countries in Vienna.

Iranian aggression is “currently conducted without a ‘nuclear canopy,’” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a Facebook post, adding that if the Islamic Republic reaches a nuclear threshold, it will be even more dangerous.

He called on the world to “mobilize to stop Iranian aggression.” Iranian aggression is “a threat to global peace and regional stability, as well as a threat to the State of Israel,” he said.

 An image of the Iranian UAV destroyed by the IDF in 2018. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT) An image of the Iranian UAV destroyed by the IDF in 2018. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)

“Whether or not an agreement will be signed, it will not be the end of the road for us, nor should it be for the countries of the region and the world, which must continue to act against Iranian aggression,” Gantz said.

“The State of Israel and its defense establishment will take all the measures necessary – political, economic and, if needed, also military – to defend our sovereignty and ensure the security of Israel’s citizens,” he said.

The IDF has understood the threat posed by such systems for several years, and the phenomenon has only increased with Iranian proxies such as the Houthis in Yemen also using UAS to carry out attacks against countries in the region.

The first time Tehran attempted to send explosives to Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank from Syria using unmanned aerial vehicles was in February 2018, when it launched a Shahed 141 carrying TNT.

The Iranian drone took off from the T-4 Airbase deep in the Syrian province of Homs and crossed into Israeli territory via Jordanian airspace. The drone was spotted by Israel and was intercepted near Beit She’an by an Apache attack helicopter.

LAST MAY, during Operation Guardian of the Walls and three months after the two Shahed 197s were intercepted by the F-35i fighter jets, Iran again tried to infiltrate into Israel with a drone flown from Iraq. It was downed by electronic warfare and fell into a fish pond in Kibbutz Maoz Haim, where it remained for more than a month before the IDF was able to retrieve it.

Following the attempted aerial infiltration of the UAS, the IDF “studied and analyzed the attempts to launch the UAS and formulated an appropriate response,” OC Operations Directorate Maj.-Gen. Oded Basiuk said, adding: “We are required to continue learning as long as the threat continues to exist.”

“Time and time again, we have thwarted Iran’s attempts to carry out plans to launch the UAS toward Israel,” he said. “At the same time, the IDF will continue to promote operational activities to prevent additional attempts.”

The Iranian drones have yet to cause any damage or injury here, but Israel is under a daily threat similar to other countries that Iran has attacked with its drone fleet in recent years.

Iran has been building its UAS fleet since 1984. The drones have a range of more than 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) and have very advanced development and operational capabilities, making them a challenge for the IAF’s aerial defenses to identify and intercept.

Iran has hundreds of drones and 48 different models, including those that are operational and others that are still in trial phases. Tehran has also transferred UAS models and know-how to its proxies, such as the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

The Shahed 197 was developed using reverse engineering from an American RQ-170 that fell inside Iran in 2011. It is powered by a micro-turbojet engine and has an endurance of 20 hours and a combat range of 2,000 km.

The Islamic Republic has also designed UAVs able to operate in a swarm of more than 10 drones. Unveiled in April, Iran developed the drone with a combat warhead weighing five to 15 kilograms, with an operational range of 400 km.

A drone and missile swarm by Iran was first used in September 2019 against Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil processing facility in Buqayq, some 1,000 km. from where the drones were launched. The attack disrupted the kingdom’s ability to produce oil for months and alerted the international community to the threat posed by Iran’s drone arsenal.

Iran has since carried out several more drone attacks, including the deadly attack on the MV Mercer Street that killed the British captain and a Romanian security guard.

The IAF understands that the Islamic Republic’s defense industry is robust, constantly working to improve and manufacture systems and platforms that can threaten Israel and other countries in the region.

Due to the increasing threat posed by UAS and following the signing of the Abraham Accords, Israel has increased its presence in the Gulf States, including militarily.

Israel is building a regional detection array at Hatzor Air Force Base with several countries in the area against drone attacks, the N12 news site reported. The Israeli radar system could detect such threats for neighboring countries and help destroy them, the report said.