Mondoweiss contributor Jimmy Johnson has just unveiled an interesting new resource to highlight “news, data and analysis focusing on Israel’s arms industry.” The site is called Neged Neshek (“Against Arms” in Hebrew) and it looks like it will be a very useful resource.
UAVs are a key export of Israel’s arms industry. A number of Israeli firms export drones, most prominently Aeronautics Defense Systems, Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries. UAVs are commonly used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and targeting missions. More recently some models have begun to carry armed payloads.
During the first years of the Israeli occupation of Sinai (War of Attrition)
Egypt began to deploy the SA-2 and SA-3 antiaircraft systems. The appearance of the batteries led to a number of IAF losses, and harmed the Air Force’s ability to gather intelligence from the frontlines. During the search for a method of intelligence gathering that would not put the lives of air crew at risk, the possibility of acquiring UAVs was explored.
Alternately put, the cost of Egyptian resistance to military occupation required mechanisms of pacification. In September 1971 the first squadron of U.S.-made Firebee UAVs was deployed to the Refidim Airbase in Occupied Sinai and the “squadron’s first operational flight was carried out almost immediately”. In the October (Yom Kippur) War
it was able to reduce its manned aircraft losses by using inexpensive Chukar decoys to deceive and saturate Egyptian [surface-to-air missile] battles along the Suez Canal. (1)
They were deployed similarly to support the occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights where they “fooled the Syrians into thinking that a massive combat plane strike had begun against their [anti-aircraft] positions.” The key Israeli innovation was not in their use for surveillance. Instead the “operational need for real time intelligence on the front lines led to the idea of a UAV carrying a stabilized camera that could broadcast pictures.”
Shortly after the war the Israeli government
charged the IAI and Tadiran companies with developing small, versatile, low-signature [UAVs], able to send back real-time intelligence by direct video link, and capable of being operation in the field by ordinary soldiers after only three to six months training. (2)
Both IAI and Tadiran responded successfully. Tadiran produced the Mastiff and IAI the Scout with the first units entering into service in 1977. The concept was first tested in battle “in 1981 when the South African Army used the IAI Scout during Operation Protea in Angola.” (3) Operation Protea was an attempt to destroy the South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO). The apartheid military’s use of drones in a colonial war of military occupation forecast Israel’s first combat deployment in Lebanon in 1982. The IDF invaded and attacked Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) bases, also engaging in combat with the Syrian military and Lebanese irregulars. This turned out to be a turning point in the deployment and popularization of UAVs.
One of the main tactical challenges to IAF operations in Lebanon was the threat posed by a heavy concentration of Syrian SAM batteries in the Bekáa Valley. These were precisely located by using reconnaissance UAVs … Decoy UAVs were launched toward the SAM sites, and once the Syrian radars were activated, they were struck both by ground-launched antiradar missiles and by air-launched missiles, all while being observed by reconnaissance UAVs. … The 1982 air operations rejuvenated interest in decoy drones and also popularized small UAVs with real-time video cameras. (4)
The U.S. was about to experience a military set-back that encouraged it to draw from Israel’s experience. After the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in October 1983 “as well as other hostile actions by Syrian-supported factions,” the U.S. “adopted an offensive posture”
authorizing bombardment of militia strongholds and Syrian army positions in the Shouf Mountains behind Beirut. Both 16-in gunfire from the USS battleship New Jersey and air-strikes by carrier-launched [fighters] were employed but with marginal results. Neither the naval gunfire nor the air strikes were terminally controlled, and prestrike and poststrike reconnaissance aircraft were routinely engaged by hostile fire. (5)
This compared unfavorably with the Israeli experience in carrying out the same tasks. “Two U.S. Navy captains, sent in-country to investigate the shortcomings, came away impressed with the effective use by the Israeli Army UAVs in the [targeting] role and recommended the adoption of such a system by the U.S. Navy” prompting Secretary of the Navy John Lehman to acquire a UAV capability, the IAI Pioneer. (6)
Israel also innovated UAV use in extrajudicial executions in its occupations of Lebanon and the OPT. Targeted assassinations have long been a tactic Israel used against Palestinian and Lebanese militants. The highest-profile killing during this earlier period was the February, 1992 assassination of Hizballah Secretary-General Sheikh Abbas al-Musawi where an IAI Scout “was used to locate [al-Musawi’s] vehicle, for targeting and to report the results of the strike.” These efforts used helicopters, cruise missiles or aircraft to fire any weapon with the UAVs performing only ISR missions. This description still fits all but a few of the UAV models in the world today with the U.S. and Israel providing most of those few models able to carry armed payloads themselves.
Esteem of Israeli UAVs further grew after the first Gulf War when the Pioneer “emerged as a useful source of intelligence at the tactical level during Desert Storm. [The] Pioneer was used by Navy battleships to locate Iraqi targets for its 16-inch guns.” (7) This marked the first time the U.S. used drones for real-time surveillance in combat. It was a Pioneer that was involved in what may one day be seen as a watershed moment:
In one case, a group of Iraqi soldiers saw a Pioneer flying overhead and, rather than wait to be blown up by a 2,000-pound cannon shell, waved white bedsheets and undershirts at the drone. It was the first time in history that human soldiers surrendered to an unmanned system. (8)
Since then Israeli UAV innovation has continued to inform that of other militaries. The speed of Israeli technological advancement in the field reflects an important aspect of its pacification laboratory. Wartime research and development in industrial nations operates at an accelerated pace and four decades of consistent conflict in its occupation of the OPT, as well as nearly two decades in Lebanon, has created a permanent wartime level of militarized technological investment as well as a battlefield laboratory for deployment.
The perpetual war economy and combat history, combined with Israel’s early entry into the UAV field, have provided Israel with a competitive edge in exporting UAVs. The ‘combat proven’ aspect of Israeli technology is advertised by the IDF itself. It noted the use and success of its UAVs in the Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza, reporting on its website:
The success of the IDF thus far in Operation Cast Lead is largely due to the cooperation between different parts of the army — such as various brigades and units. Thanks to the use of UAVs … the IDF has been attaining footage captured from the air, above the Gaza Strip, and collecting data for the ground forces in Gaza.
Popular Mechanics noted about Cast Lead that “On the Israeli side, there is counter-rocket technology such as radar that quickly tracks rocket launches back to point of origin and signal-gathering missile-guidance sensors that are mounted on UAVs.” More than fulfilling radar, targeting and air-strike roles, UAVs offer “continuous or ‘persistent’ surveillance of the battlespace, providing commanders with what is, in effect, a low hanging, near-stationary satellite.” The unmanned aircraft also helps to alleviate “pressure on the military by political authorities and the general public to minimize casualties and capture of aircrews by the enemy” and complete missions “which, if manned, would tax or exceed the limits of human endurance.” (9)
Earlier restrictions on UAV operational capacity have fallen away with the dramatic increases in computer processing power, image rendering, wireless and sensor technologies that allow for higher resolution photo and video transmissions and improved communications. The speed of technological advance in the field has led to constant reassessment of unmanned vehicles’ battlefield potential and the dedication of increasing resources to development and procurement by armed forces worldwide. The U.S.’s National Defense Authorization Fiscal Year 2001 legislation declared “It shall be a goal of the Armed Forces to achieve the fielding of unmanned, remotely controlled technology such that … by 2010, one-third of the aircraft in the operational deep strike force aircraft fleet are unmanned.” [PDF] Just five years later, the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review increased that to 45 percent.
The U.S. UAV program predates Israel’s, though it has been slower to adopt and integrate the technology. Now investing hundreds of millions of dollars annually in developing and advancing UAV technology the US military UAV program is projected to generate $62 billion in revenue from 2010 – 2015, increasing at a 10% compound annual growth rate. This investment by the U.S. and the political considerations of its domestic military industrial complex have led the U.S. to almost completely supplant Israeli drones in its arsenal. This does nothing to negate the generative influence that Israeli drones and their use in Lebanon and the OPT, and later their use by the U.S. in Iraq, had on the U.S. drone programs. A Congressional Research Office report notes to this effect that following the deployment of the Pioneer in “the Gulf War, military officials recognized the worth of UAVs, and the Air Force’s Predator became a UAV on a fast track, quickly adding new capabilities.” (10)
Other nations though have turned to Israel to fill a demand for drones. Over fifty nations (see insert) have procured Israeli models to fill a variety of surveillance, combat, and counterinsurgency roles. Just as in the U.S. case, the battlefield experience is a selling point. The Aeronautics Defense Systems (ADS) Orbiter brochure notes it to be a “Field proven, mature operational system”. [PDF] It is in service with at least twelve militaries. BlueBird Aero Systems’ Spy-Lite is too noted as “combat proven” and advertised as having “been operated successfully in combat conditions [by] the Israeli Defense Forces”. [PDF]
ADS’ Aerostar – serving in at least fifteen nations – promotional material states it is “[o]perationally proven on four continents” and is a “combat proven – mature operational system”. [PDF] Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 – sold to at least a dozen nations – is advertised as “[o]perational in the Israel Defense Force”, a fact highlighted with a bright yellow “BATTLE PROVEN” [PDF] stamp on the front of its brochure.
The media too promotes the combat-tested worthiness of Israeli military systems. The Jerusalem Post in a December 2008 article about the procurement of IAI’s Heron UAV by Canada states, “It plays a vital role in IDF operations in the Gaza Strip and in southern Lebanon, and in February the Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) will make its debut in Afghanistan as the main surveillance drone for the Canadian Armed Forces.” Here we can see that there is not only a mature Israeli industry based upon the oppression of Palestinians and Lebanese, the technology’s history is actively marketed.
Agencies of authority, from occupying armies to border patrols to police forces to private military/security firms all exercise control over certain spaces normally including the airspace. UAVs are useful and used in ISR missions beyond those of direct conflict and military occupation. Israel continues to fly UAVs over the OPT and Lebanon for surveillance and intelligence gathering while the same machines are being exported all over the world. French police deployed the IAI Hunter for “hostile protest monitoring” during the G8 summit in 2003. The Aerostar is also guarding Chevron’s oil fields in Angola and the Russian Federal Security Authority used ADS’s Skystar 300 for surveillance at St. Petersburg’s 2006 G8 conference. The entire UAV market is expected to rise to $13.6 billion dollars by 2014.
Current military use of UAVs is limited by the need for relatively unchallenged airspace. They usually have a low radar signature but if located have little evasive or defensive capability. Efforts to make air combat-capable UAVs are years away from matching the capability of piloted aircraft. Until that happens, they will be vulnerable when deployed without air superiority. Thus, UAVs remain a tool of the already dominant. Hezbollah in Lebanon has at least twice penetrated Israeli airspace with an Iranian-built Mirsad-1 UAV. This was of immense public relations value to Hezbollah but the flights had little military use because of their minimal freedom of movement in Israeli airspace and both were shot down. However, UAVs as part of an integrated warring, pacification, counterinsurgency or control strategy can guide the attacks of approaching ground forces and identify targets for air and artillery strikes. Their ability to map in real-time the physical landscape of the battleground makes them a key tool of the nascent information technology-based theories of net-centric warfare.
(1) Munson, Kenneth (1988). World Unmanned Aircraft. London: Jane’s Publishing Company, p. 8.
(3) Zaloga, Steven J. (2008). Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Robotic Warfare 1917-2007. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, p. 22.
(4) Ibid., p. 22-3.
(5) Newcome, Laurence R. (2004). Unmanned Aviation: A Brief History of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Reston, VA: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, p. 95-6.
(6) Ibid., p. 96. Bone, Elizabeth and Christopher Bolkcom, 25 April 2003. Umanned Aerial Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress. [PDF] Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, p. 2.
(7) Ibid., p. 2.
(8) Singer, P.W. (2009). Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. New York: Penguin Press, p. 57.
(9) Defense Science Board, February 2004. “Defense Science Board Study on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Uninhabited Combat Aerial Vehicles”. [PDF] Washington, D.C.: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, p. 4.
(10). Bone and Bolkom, p. 2.