How Israel's Drones Fought the War, Part II

Israeli military chiefs are being taken out to the woodshed for relying on airpower during the summer campaign in Lebanon. "But after-action data and battlefield imagery are revealing great advances in the ability to respond to asymmetric threats," says Defense News' Barbara Opall-Rome. Thanks largely to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), "more than 90 percent of the medium-range missile launchers used by Hizbollah were destroyed almost immediately after they fired their first weapon."WATCHKEEPER_2.JPG

By the third night [of the war], the IAF [Israeli Air Force] attained full operational capability of the worlds first Boost Phase Launch Intercept (BPLI) force [maybe it's more of a "a search and destroy operation," as Bill noted in the comments -- ed.] a tightly linked network of manned aircraft and UAVs that saturated the airspace to hunt and immediately kill small, mobile, medium-range missile launchers.
It didn't work against the terror group's teeny-tiny Katyusha rockets. But Israels BPLI capability did managed to knock out "more than 100 launchers during the more-than month-long war." UAVs "like the Elbit Hermes 450S Zik, the Shoval (Heron-1/Crusher) and Searcher-2 built by Israel Aircraft Industries" did the lion's share of the work.
This was the first large-scale use of UAVs, not only for providing a continuous presence over the entire battle area, but in [assisting the direction and delivery of] smart munitions to these very small, well hidden, moving targets, said Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired IAF major general and former director of Israeli defense research and development...This is not like a targeted killing where we have two weeks to plan, Ben-Israel said. Here, theres only a matter of seconds between the time the terrorists emerged to launch these missiles to the time when they returned to their hiding places among innocent civilians. Those medium-range missile launchers became suicide launchers. They were destroyed either before or immediately after they fired their first missile.
The Israeli Air Force also got better about detecting -- and taking out -- Hezbollah drones. By tweaking "multiple radars never designed to detect such small, slow-moving, pinpoint targets.... F-16C fighter pilots on air patrol [were able] to blast the [unmanned] offenders from Israeli and Lebanese skies with Python-5 dogfighting missiles."
According to Israeli military data, Hizbollah launched four Iranian-made Ababil UAVs during the war. One apparently exploded upon launch; another penetrated Israeli airspace, but crashed just south of the Lebanon border; and the other two were downed over the sea southwest of Haifa and near the area of Tzur in southern Lebanon.Remnants of the downed drones showed that at least one was equipped with nearly 10 kilograms of explosives, which Israeli intelligence sources believe was destined for Tel Aviv. According to officials here, the UAV that crashed upon launch may have carried a payload of up to 50 kilograms.Examination of cockpit imagery from one of the engagements shows detection of the target at extremely short range close enough for the pilot to actually see the UAV. From an extraordinarily low altitude of less than 2,000 feet and at very low speed, the pilot launched his Python-5, which immediately arched and locked on to its target. Imagery shows the missile maneuvering at nearly 90 degrees for a matter of seconds before blasting the gnat-sized target with its explosive warhead.This is an historic first for us, and professionals will understand how complicated the mission is. Its not the classic engagement of an F-16 versus a MiG, where you have a competing aircraft and radar. In this scenario, its not plane against plane, but rather network against an asymmetrical target you can barely see, said the senior IAF official.
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