The “Ababil”, the UAV intercepted during the Second Lebanon War
The attack on the Twin Towers, September 2011
The Hijacked Savena plane in Ben Gurion Airport – Ehud Barak, then-commander of the Special Forces unit, Sayeret Matkal, standing over the body of Ali Abu Snina
Interception of a UAV in southern Israel, October 2010
Aerial warfare, in 1944: Kamikaze pilots take off on their mission This week, 69 years ago, American aircraft carriers were attacked by Japanese suicide pilots called “Kamikazes”. Since then, aerial combat has developed and today the IDF prepares for the most recent enemy: unmanned aerial vehicles that penetrate the borders of the State. How is the IAF preparing for this threat? Most importantly, is there reason to be concerned?
This week, 69 years ago, the first kamikaze attack was carried out, in which Japanese pilots committed suicide with their planes that were loaded with fuel and crashed into American ships. Since then, aerial combat has undergone many changes: in the late 50s many instances of airplane hijacks occurred, which reached their peak in 2001, when two planes loaded with passengers crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City.
Over the years, security officials in Israel and abroad have had to cope with the ever-morphing threats from the air and to predict where they will develop next. In recent years, the world of airborne and unmanned terror has gained strength, when the security officials estimate that threat, which began during the Second Lebanon War, is merely in its infancy. “This technology is readily available both to small, unorganized terror groups and to big militant organizations”, explains Lieutenant Colonel (res.) Iftach Shapir, senior researcher at the INSS (Institute for National Security Studies) and head of the INSS Middle East Military Balance project. “While the balance of power between the two sides is unstable, terrorist organizations have to find other tools for aerial combat”.
The Beginning of a Process: Documented Change
A “breakthrough” in the area occurred during the Second Lebanon War, when UAVs of the “Ababil” model from the organization Hezbollah penetrated the borders of the State and were intercepted by the IAF. “Around nine years ago, the enemy realized that it’s hard for him to face the IAF with conventional planes”, added Lieutenant Colonel (res.) Iftach. “This is simple and relatively cheap technology. This accessibility is very tempting for terrorist organizations.”
The growth of operational aviation is about many changes that themselves have grown. The first and most central change in documentation began with the Control Division, but also with terrorist elements. “In recent years, the Control Division has improved and changed amid the introduction of hostile UAVs”, explains Head of Operations and Systems in the Control Division, Lieutenant Colonel Aviv, who even took part in an interception of a UAV in the skies of northern Israel in the past year. “First and foremost, a serious mental change was made. We understood the size of the threat and of the aviation, and its unique nature-all of this with the goal of dealing with it in the most efficient and professional way”.
“Instant identification capabilities are crucial”
For the IAF, it is a big challenge. Notwithstanding the alertness and awareness, the skies will never be hermetically sealed. Over the years, the IAF has learned to get acquainted with the new enemy, whether in combat squadrons, where soldiers are on call dozens of times a month to investigate unidentified targets that are mostly discovered to be false alarms, or in the control division, where soldiers continue to keep an eye open and remain alert at all times. “Instant identification capabilities are crucial. From the moment a target is defined, the controller has to do everything to identify it. The results will reverberate and affect the whole force”, adds Lieutenant Colonel Aviv. “In addition, in the last two years, many improvements have been introduced to the discovery and identification divisions. The radars have been updated and their range around the country has expanded. Today, the information flows between all the relevant elements so that it gets to the right person, at the right time, and as quickly as possible.”