Part II of a series; read Part I here.

Israel has become a leader on the cutting edge of the unmanned vehicles industry. While it started with aerial vehicles, the country has expanded into developing advanced crafts for the skies, sea and the ground.  

“He Who Saves One Life…”

Perhaps due to their concern for human life, it is mainly Western countries that have embraced the new unmanned vehicle technology - especially the U.S., Israel, the United Kingdom and France. The chief non-Western nation to embrace the technology is India, which receives most of its drones from Israel. 

“We’re not going to send our soldiers out to be ambushed,” said one IDF General Staff officer. “It’s that simple. And the technology being developed and tested today allows us to both protect our troops and enhance our precision strike options, all at the same time. ‘No signature’ means no troops. If you’re in [Palestinian Authority-controlled] Tulkarm, you may see balloons or unmanned aerial vehicles, but you won’t see targets until we choose the time and place to attack.”  

Multiple Advantages

Steve Rodan from Middle East Newsline, a Canada-based news agency reporting on military and security developments, writes that there are three main advantages to unmanned vehicles: “Firstly they help protect human life by taking humans out of the battlefield. Secondly, they never get tired. A regular pilot is often exhausted after a mission. The UAVs don’t have that problem. They never get weary and can be used repeatedly. Thirdly, they can be used for boring patrol duty where often nothing happens for 40-50 days and military personnel often lower their guards.” 

And it’s not just airplanes. Israeli companies are also busy developing unmanned helicopters. Israel-based Steadicopter has produced an unmanned helicopter using patented technology that enables the chopper to stay stable while airborne. The developers say that the unmanned helicopter can be used wherever manned helicopters are currently used, for a smaller price and with no danger to human life. It can also take the place of unmanned fixed-wing aircraft.  

Meanwhile, the unmanned aerial vehicle known as the Mule is being built by another Israeli company, Urban Aeronautics. It has the same attributes as a helicopter, but is more stable, cheaper, smaller and less noisy. The IDF Medical Corps is interested in the Mule in order to evacuate injured troops. Its narrow width is its most valuable benefit, given that the Mule is able to land in areas that would normally be unreachable to other vehicles. As of now, the Mule can hold two injured persons in a lying down position. In the future, there will be place for a chaperone as well.   

On Land and Sea

Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries have branched out from the air to jointly develop the Guardium Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV). The Guardium UGV, which has been supplied to the IDF, is an advanced, third-generation UGV based on the Tomcar platform, which is an off-road, highly maneuverable vehicle for rough terrain and challenging topography. The vehicle features autonomous operation, allowing for precise steering across pre-defined routes programmed in its mission profile.

Guardium is capable of extended and continuous operation, and contains systems allowing for all-weather continuous transmission of visual, audio and target data back to the operator, without risk to human lives.  It is also able to autonomously detect and avoid various types of obstacles, enabling real-time course corrections without the intervention of an operator. 

As the first operationally deployed autonomous UGV system, Guardium is already a subject of great interest worldwide. It is also scheduled to take part in security missions along Israel's borders. 

The Israeli Navy has also begun deploying a highly maneuverable unmanned craft called the Protector along the Mediterranean coast. The Protector is being used particularly off the Hamas-held Gaza Strip in the south, and outside Lebanon in the north where Hizbullah terrorists operate. Built by Rafael Advanced Systems, the Protector is one of the newest systems acquired by the Navy and can carry a wide range of payloads, including cameras, sensors and weapons. The ships are operated remotely from land stations and can carry out a wide range of missions while evading detection. "There are areas that the navy preferred to first enter in an unmanned capacity before a manned capacity," a navy official said.

Aeronautics Defense Systems manufactures SeaStar, an unmanned maritime operations vehicle featuring capabilities for the entire range of Naval and Coast Guard missions. The SeaStar is highly autonomous and can perform a wide variety of missions, and can even be operated in hazardous sea conditions.

Unmanned Vehicles to Protect Against Nuclear Threat

And the next big thing? Israel is reportedly developing a high-flying, long-endurance unmanned infrared sensor to assist in those critical minutes when it may be forced to spot incoming nuclear warheads amidst dozens of decoys sent to confound national missile defenses. A prototype of the long-range, high-resolution target-discrimination sensor has already been tested aboard a business jet under a classified Israeli-German program called “Bluebird.”

This is Part II of a series; read Part I here.