In recent years, UAVs have been used by terror organizations in Lebanon and the Gaza strip to penetrate Israeli airspace.
All these attempts were encountered by air-to-air and surface-to-air weapons systems. But now a new threat is emerging fast – attacks by swarms of armed UAVs. The threat was exposed in January, when the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed its forces in Syria were attacked by a swarm of home-made UAVs – the first time such a coordinated assault has been reported in a military action.
According to the Ministry of Defense, Russian, forces at the Khmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility foiled the attack. Russia’s official spokesman added that at nightfall, Russia air defences detected 13 unidentified small targets approaching the Russian military bases. “Ten assault drones were approaching the Khmeimim air base, and another three – the base in Tartus.”
According to the Russian statement, six of the UAVs were intercepted by Russian electronic warfare units, with three being brought to land outside the base and the remaining three exploding on contact with the ground.
Another seven were “eliminated” by Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missiles fired by the Russians, with the bases reporting no casualties or damage, the statement explained. While the UAVs look primitive, the Russians said they were armed with explosives and launched from a site more than 50 km away.
The Ministry said a technical examination indicates the UAVs would have an effective attacking range of about 100 km.
It’s still not known who launched the swarm, but the Russians have hinted that the technology used was too advanced for local militants.
Many countries in the region are developing armed UAVs. The most recent one to be exposed is the Iranian Muhajer-6 equipped with a new home-made smart bomb dubbed “Ghaem,” It is the first UAV of the Mohajer series that is armed with a guided weapon.
The Iranian effort to develop new armed UAVs and is worrying Israel. In recent years the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has foiled attempts by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza to penetrate Israeli airspace, probably for intelligence purposes.
The growing threat has gotten Israeli companies to develop countermeasures. Last year, IAI unveiled the Drone Guard system for UAv detection, identification and flight disruption. The ELTA division of IAI has developed a special system that integrates a 3-Dimensional (3D) radar and Electro-Optical (EO) sensors for detection and identification, as well as dedicated Electronic Attack (EA) jamming systems for disrupting UAV flight.
To detect low signature, low-level and low-speed airborne targets, ELTA has adapted to this specific mission its 3D radars, which include the ELM-2026D, ELM-2026Band ELM-2026BF for short (10km), medium (15km) and long (20 km) ranges, respectively, with special UAV detection and tracking algorithms, as well as adapting them with EO sensors for visual identification of the target.
In order to disrupt the hostile UAV, ELTA has developed advanced adaptive jamming systems which can be used in concert with its detection and identification sensors, or as a continuously operated stand-alone system. The jamming disrupts the UAV’s flight and can either cause it to return to its point-of-origin (‘Return Home’ function) or to shut down and make a crash landing.
The armed UAV threat is considered to be very serious by other countries. Last year IAI, through ELTA North America, was awarded a $15 553 483 firm-fixed-price contract to supply anti-UAV systems to the U.S Air Force. According to the agreement ELTA North America will provide the procurement, delivery, and training of 21 Man Portable Aerial Defense System kits.
Rafael has also developed an anti-UAV system. Its Drone Dome has 360° coverage and is designed to detect, track, and neutralize UAVs classified as threats flying in no-fly zones. First, the threat is detected and identified by radar and EO/IR sensors. The data is combined and correlated and alerts the operator to the hostile UAV. The system initiates either an automatic interference operation, as per pre-defined rules in the command and control engine, or manual operation by the operator. When the threat reaches the neutralization area, the hostile UAV is neutralized by activation of the directional global navigation and radio frequency inhibitor/jammer system.
IMI Systems has also developed a system against UAVs. In late October 2017, the Red Sky 2 Drone Defender System of IMI Systems protected thousands of participants during the royal funeral ceremony of the former King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX). Four mobile Red Sky 2 Drone Defender Systems were purchased by the Thai Air Force in September.