Israel Navy identified Iranian attack drone in March 2021, new intel shows

The F-35 aircraft that shot down the drone in 2021 only did so after being assigned to do so through intelligence provided by the Navy.

Israel Navy officers track an Iranian attack drone flying in March 2021 (IDF'S SPOKESPERSON UNIT)

The Sa’ar 6 missile boat’s highly advanced radar systems were used successfully in March 2021 to help track an Iranian attack drone and to facilitate assigning a specific F-35 aircraft to shoot down the incoming drone.

Although the incident was previously announced, now is the first time that it has been revealed that the method for having identified and tracked the attack drone was via an Israeli naval vessel.

Until now, many theorized that either land-based or aerial-based Israeli radar had caught the Iranian attack drone, especially since an F-35 aircraft had shot it down.

It is now clear that the F-35 aircraft only did so after being assigned to do so through intelligence provided by the navy.

Other revelations about Israeli missile boats

This revelation comes along with other revelations regarding Israeli missile boats, including that they and other Israeli naval vessels – as well as US naval vessels – were involved for two weeks in mid-2022 to prepare for setting up the critical new Karish natural gas field.

 An Israeli Navy vessel is seen firing a missile (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT) An Israeli Navy vessel is seen firing a missile (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

Previously, it had been reported that on July 2, 2022, an IDF plane and gunboat intercepted three hostile drones launched from Lebanon towards the airspace over Israel’s economic waters.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility and its affiliates claimed that launching the drones was justified, called it “successful” and asserted it helped Lebanon in the negotiations being carried out to delineate its naval border.

Yet, only now are fuller details coming forward about the navy’s role, the two weeks of operations and the specific assistance of the US Navy with intelligence and threat issues at the Karish set up stage.

The navy currently has 12 ships at sea to provide defense at all times, which has included running 13 operations as well as 26,364 general hours at sea.

Further, the navy is providing enhanced defense capabilities at a time when 70% of Israel’s energy needs have shifted to be arriving from the sea.

That is without considering the huge volume of grains, weapons, communications and other issues that are enabled by Israel maintaining unmitigated access to the sea.

Part of the shift in increasing the navy’s powers and responsibilities came as a result of government decisions noting that Israel was becoming even more reliant on the sea following discovery of vast natural gas resources off the coast.

What is the Saar 6?

The Sa’ar 6 has 18 different advanced Israeli-developed systems it works with to fill the role of providing greater defense at sea to Israel’s new maritime assets.

In late March, the Israel Navy and five other countries completed a multi-week international joint drill with the Sa’ar 6 playing a prominent role, Naval Squadron 32 Cdr. Steven Gordon told The Jerusalem Post at the time.

“We led this international drill for three weeks, including Greece, Cyprus, Italy, the US and France. This was one of the bigger drills. We went all over the Mediterranean Sea and along the various coast points of Israel,” said Gordon.

The naval commander said that the exercise involved a mix of above the surface naval vessels, submarines and aircraft.

Gordon also called the drill historic because it was the first time that the relatively new Sa’ar 6 vessel participated in an international drill, though it has participated in internal Israeli drills since being delivered here over two years ago.

There have been a number of new positive turning points for the Sa’ar 6 both in late 2022 and early 2023.

An Israeli Navy vessel is seen near the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean Sea  (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)An Israeli Navy vessel is seen near the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean Sea (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

The 90-meter-long 2,000-ton Sa’ar 6 ship has a maximum speed of 24 knots with a range of 2,500 nautical miles.

Though not much longer than its naval predecessor, the Sa’ar 5, they have been built to better handle rough seas and stay at sea longer.

“The drill included practicing maneuvers and operations against: submarines, other above-surface vessels, aircraft, maneuvers to protect strategic assets and inspections of suspicious ships,” said Gordon.

The reference to suspicious ships would usually refer to efforts to smuggle weapons or carry out terror operations by groups from Gaza, but could also relate to Iranian smuggling attempts throughout the region.

Gordon did not want to reveal specific scenarios, but it appeared pretty clear that the reference to strategic assets included defending Israel’s natural gas platforms.

For example, the naval commander discussed with the Post the July 2022 incident in which the IDF shot down the three unmanned aerial vehicles launched by Hezbollah toward Israel’s economic waters over the Mediterranean Sea.

One of the three UAVs was shot down by an F-16, but two others were downed by the naval Barak 8 medium-range surface-to-air missile system, which is also installed on the Sa’ar 6, marking the first time the system was used against aerial threats.

The Barak-8 MR-SAM system is able to shoot down enemy aircraft at a range of 50-70 km. It is designed to defend naval vessels against a myriad of short- to long-range airborne threats, such as incoming missiles, planes and drones at both low or high altitudes.

Gordon confirmed that his naval vessels trained “to defend against drone attacks,” while noting that the Barak 8 defense system is only one of various defense options against drones.

The INS Magen, Israel's Sa'ar 6 corvette missile ship. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)The INS Magen, Israel's Sa'ar 6 corvette missile ship. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

The Sa’ar 6 also comes equipped with two Naval Dome missile interceptors for rockets (the maritime version of the land-based Iron Dome).

In addition to interception missile defense systems, the ships also have 16 anti-ship missiles, one 76 mm. Oto Melara Super Rapid main gun, two Typhoon 25 mm. remote weapon stations and two 324 mm. torpedo launchers for MK54 Lightweight Torpedoes. Each state-of-the-art ship will also be outfitted with cyber and electronic warfare systems.