Israel Accelerates Evaluation of MALE UAVs Operational Pattern and Usage to Overcome its Vulnerability

By Arie Egozi

Defence Industry

Tel Aviv: The clear vulnerability of MALE UAVs over an area saturated with air defence systems and the possible need of an Israeli action against Iran has accelerated the evaluation of the operational pattern of these unmanned systems and its usage by the Israeli air force (IAF).

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The ongoing war Israel is fighting against the Iranian proxies in Gaza and Lebanon has brought the evaluation of the unmanned aerial systems by the Israeli air force (IAF) in focus. While the Israeli multi-layered air defence system has very limited success in intercepting the Iranian made UAV launched by the Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Iranian air defence systems used by the organisation has managed to shoot down five Israeli medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAVs.

On June 10, 2024, Hezbollah successfully downed the fifth Israeli medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV since the start of the war. This time, the system in question was a Hermes 900 (known in the Israeli Air Force as “Kohav/Star”) UAV, intercepted over Lebanon by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

The MALE UAVs may hover over a target for up to 24 hours, weigh between 0.5 and 5 tons, and operate at altitudes of 15,000 to 30,000 feet. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become increasingly dominant in intelligence, target detection, area scanning, and attack operations as their sensors, sophistication, and command, control, and communication systems have all increased. The majority of operations carried out by the world’s most capable air forces today rely significantly on these tested capabilities, despite the fact that the cost of these systems is rising in tandem with sensor advancements.

In recent years, the Israeli MALE UAV performed a record number of flight hours over Lebanon and Gaza gathering intelligence about the activities of the Iranian proxies and attacking sites and operators of weapon systems that were prepared to launch against targets in Israel.

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According to Yair Ramati, former director of Israel’s missile defence organisation in the ministry of defence, MALE UAV could fly above MANPADS ceiling without being engaged by air defence systems.

” The terror groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthis and Shiite militias in Iraq, in the past lacked the air defence systems, necessary to shoot down these UAVs. But as the Iranians have gradually upgraded their locally made air defence system, they are now capable of shooting down different aerial platform including MALE UAVs operated by Israel. One of these is the Iranian Ziad 2 missile, a clone of the US SM1 missile and the other is jet powered ”358” air defence system. Remains of this interceptor were recently found in Lebanon,” Yair Ramati added.

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Elaborating further, Ramati said that the new development requires a change “either by allocating MALE tasks to tactical arrays, which include different attack quad copters, smaller and less expensive UAVs, loitering munitions or utilising low observable jet powered UAVs. The industry has just begun responding to this evolving challenge”.

As expected, there is no consensus about the way to confront this fast developing problem. Raksha Anirveda talked to a senior (res.) officer in the Israeli air force who was involved in the operation of UAV. His approach is totally different.

”The option to equip the MALE UAV with self-protection systems like those carried by fighter aircraft is not realistic as these will affect the volume of weapon systems carried by the UAV. Therefore one option is to give a number of these MALE UAV a protection envelope to be created by a special mission aircraft equipped with the systems that create such protection. This of course complicates the UAV operation but is, at this point the right solution,” the senior officer opined.

The Israeli air force operates different special mission aircraft, based on a Gulfstream G-550 business jet equipped with a large variety of Israeli made passive and active systems. Either way, Israel sees the operation of its MALE UAV equipped with sensors and different highly classified weapon systems as essential to the operation in the ongoing and future wars and therefore gave the highest priority to the solution of this new problem.