Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are accounting for an increasing share of operations by Western air forces, and former Israel Air Force commander Major General (res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu admits, "For us, to oust the pilots from the cockpit and fly unmanned platforms instead is definitely a blow to the ego. We trained them for dogfighting, but I can definitely see in the distant future dogfights between UAVs. This is no fantasy, it's probably part of the future."
Ben-Eliyahu gave the keynote address at the AUS&R (Autonomous Unmanned Systems & Robotics) 2013 Air Show hosted by Israel Homeland Security (iHLS) on Tuesday. 40 years after the Yom Kippur War, we can only imagine how the battle would have looked had the IDF had eyes in the sky that knew where to look. "In the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli Air Force did not have aerial pictures of the tens of thousands of Egyptian soldiers massing at the bridges to cross the Suez Canal, and we really needed them. 40 years have passed, and the increase in investments and in the UAV market is huge," he said. "In the past decade, the production and budgets for UAVs in the US has increased by 150-200%."
At the i-HLS conference, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) CEO Joseph Weiss said that its UAVs have accumulated more than one million operational flight hours worldwide. He called this figure "an unprecedented achievement", and said that IAI teams were continuing the development and upgrade of the company's flagship Heron UAV. "The Heron was and remains the leading platform of its kind in Israel and in international markets over the past decade. It has already been sold to 20 customers," he said, adding that of all IAI's UAV's, the Heron alone had accumulated more than 200,000 operational flight hours, including by NATO forces in Afghanistan and other combat zones around the world.
While UAVs can already do almost anything, Ben-Eliayhu noted the challenges facing companies that are basing their growth on them: how to operate a large number of UAVs in the same small area of operations; how to reduce their exposure to cyber attacks; and just as important, where the public debate, especially in the US, whether the use of UAVs violates constitutional rights.
Despite the heavy investment by countries to procure UAVs, Ben-Eliyahu believes that they are not a deterrent. "100 UAVs will not deter an enemy. In the coming years, when Israel operates a squadron of F-35s, this will be Israel's best deterrent." Beyond deterrence, he has no doubts: UAVs are here to stay, and they will continue to change the battlefield. "Transport planes will continue to exist, as will manned combat jets, but attack helicopters are finished," he said.
At the conference, 30 companies displayed their UAVs and peripherals for enhancing UAV performance for various missions. The Heron demonstrated its capabilities in the air over Rishon LeZion, highlighting that beyond antiterrorist missions, some countries are already using it to protect critical infrastructures and to patrol borders. Correspondents and participants who have experience the Paris Air Show and other prestigious defense shows around the world were awed by the scale of iHLS exhibition, which sought to further validate Israel's standing as a global UAV powerhouse.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 27, 2013
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