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One of the many benefits of the US-Israel relationship has been the extent to which American and Israeli security have been significantly bolstered by security technology cooperation.  Joint US-Israel missile defense programs such as Iron Dome and the Arrow system have demonstrated their utility in obstructing rocket fire directed at Israel by terrorist organizations and their Iranian patrons, and Elbit Systems will soon be bringing Israel’s border security expertise to bear on our persistent southwest border vulnerabilities.

As with missile defense and border security, the United States and Israel now need to huddle on another area of security technology that is emerging as an imperative for both nations: counter-drone technology.

Recent reporting highlights the extent to which the Israeli Defense Forces are taking enemy UAV developments seriously.  IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly noted recently:

While Maj O [of the Israeli Air Force] revealed that UAV incursions are becoming more common, he declined to quantify this. “We are dealing with drones a lot more today, but I cannot say by how much. We had reconnaissance drones in the past from Hezbollah, Syria, and Egypt – that’s no secret, but since 2006 we have been dealing with them a lot more. Most of them don’t cross into Israeli territory though, because we conduct the intercept before they get there, and the ones that do cross have all been shot down. This is a trend that we see continuing.”

As Major O noted, not only does the IAF see the trend continuing, but it also sees these UAVs becoming more potent and capable. As he explained: “We don’t call them UAVs – they are guided weapon systems … a lot like cruise missiles even. Some of the [jet-powered ones] are even as fast as cruise missiles that are guided to the target by waypoints. We train against these types, but I can’t say if we have actually intercepted any for real.”

And as Yochi Dreazen reports at New Republic:

There is ample reason for concern. Over the past 18 months, drones piloted by Hezbollah—but almost certainly built and supplied by its patron, Iran—have penetrated Israeli airspace, coming unnervingly close to key infrastructure sites and major population centers. Soon, they may be joined by others sent by Hamas: In October, near the West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinian security personnel arrested a team of operatives preparing to launch a drone packed with explosives. The events have set off alarms within the Israeli Defense Forces, which last April released a statement declaring unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to be a serious threat to the country…

…The biggest fear, however, is that drones might increase the deadliness of Hezbollah rockets. The militia fired roughly 4,000 missiles into Israel during its 2006 war with the country, killing 43 civilians and leveling several dozen buildings—tactically speaking, an abysmal accuracy rate. Hezbollah is thought to now have a stockpile of roughly 60,000 projectiles, triple the amount it had back then, and some of them are capable of reaching Tel Aviv. American and Israeli intelligence officials believe the Iranian-made missiles were disassembled, loaded onto cargo planes, flown through Iraqi airspace to Syria, then trucked into Lebanon and put back together by militia engineers. The armaments, once fully operational, give Hezbollah, Tehran’s main proxy, a powerful way of retaliating for any Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities—that is, as long as Hezbollah can consistently hit its targets, rather than rain missiles on the Mediterranean or empty fields. Drones give the group a way to see where its rockets land and calibrate further strikes for greater precision. “Right now, Hezbollah just shoots rockets into the air and hopes they hit something,” an Israeli security official told me. “The drones change the equation. They can relay back information so Hezbollah can [improve] its targeting. They can provide them with real-time intelligence and flexibility.”

Like Israel, the United States is also anticipating the threat from enemy UAVs and is actively exploring technologies to defend against them.  As Defense Systems observes:

As the Pentagon moves toward a future of fewer troops and more unmanned vehicles, other countries are doing the same, particularly in the use of drones. The military is trying to account for that by not only expanding its use of unmanned aerial vehicles, but looking for technologies to defend against them.

The Army has issued a sources sought notice for information that can help in developing an affordable Counter Unmanned Aerial System (CUAS). It wants to assess current capabilities and possible alternatives, as well as get an idea about what a CUAS might cost.

As hostile countries continue to develop and disseminate unmanned systems capabilities, hopefully conversations between the U.S. and Israel about counter-drone technology cooperation are already well underway.

Ben Lerner

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