Israel adapts to dealing with drones

DJI drone credit: Reuters MAGO/Eibner
DJI drone credit: Reuters MAGO/Eibner

As the October 7 attack illustrated, drones are an integral part of modern warfare. What can be done to defend against them?

Black Saturday October 7 began when dozens of drones equipped with explosives paralyzed the Israeli army's communications and camera systems, including the 'see and shoot' system, which is meant to neutralize such a threat. Documentation on social media shows that during those atrocious events, small drones equipped with improvised generators exploded on communications towers near the Gaza border and on army lookout posts.

Over the years, Israel's military has warned about the threat of drones and various agencies have insisted that the army was not doing enough to handle the problem. What exactly are these enemy drones and what can Israel do to protect itself?

What are the capabilities of the drones used by Israel's enemies?

In contrast to the developments by the IDF an Israeli defense electronics companies, the enemies that surround us in the north and south use civilian drones manufactured by Chinese companies like DJI and Autel. Because these are relatively simple drones, their cost is very low (about $1,500 per unit on average) and they can be purchased easily by anyone on the Internet. These drones simple to operate, including using smartphones, with batteries that last for 30-50 minutes on average.

As the field develops, so does the danger that terrorist elements will exploit it against civilian and innocent targets. Newer tools can stay in the air for two or three hours at a time, and even operate automatically without an operator in the field. Lt. Col. Dr. Eyal Pinko from the Department of Political Science and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University expresses concern about this.

According to him, "Upgrading the observation capabilities of these tools can allow the operator to better see what is happening on the ground - including by terrorist elements. In addition, the development of larger drones with higher armament capabilities could lead to particularly significant damage."

"But the most worrisome concern in my eyes is the possibility of a group attack, meaning an attack with 50 or even 100 drones at the same time. This is a significant threat." In fact, this kind of use already exists today in the civil sphere: "In Disneyland, for example, they hold a fireworks show with over 150 drones in the air that operate in a coordinated manner. This can be used in the military sphere."

How can you defend against drones?

"It's hard to create an overall solution to the threat of drones and certainly not a hermetic solution," stresses Dr. Liran Antebi head of the Advanced Technologies and National Security program and a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Worldwide they are trying to understand how to improve the defense against them. The Americans have issued a call for proposals, but it is still a threat that has not been fully answered."

There are currently several ways to deal with the threat of drones. Different experts in the field divide them into two levels: the first, the identification of the drone in the air day and night by cameras or by means of acoustic systems, which makes it possible to identify the drone's noise. Another means is identification using frequencies and locating where the drone operator is. Israel Aerospace Industries, for example, has developed radar designed for this.

After identifying the tool, the second stage operates - intercepting the drone. The IDF has several technological developments to attack aerial vehicles: defense systems that allow drones to be hit with projectiles, electronic warfare systems that can disrupt the drone's communications, or solutions for hacking and taking over the drone remotely.

Is this a new threat and how is the IDF prepared for this?

Dr. Pinko recalls, "The first time drones were used on the battlefield was by terrorist organization ISIS against the US Army. Since then, the military use of the tools has been for surveillance, information gathering and attack. "The Ukrainians have turned it into a real 'art.' They have installed a standard hand grenade under the drone, which can release the mechanism and make it fall where desired. In the war in Ukraine, it has been used enormously by both sides."

As for Hamas, the IDF estimates that the terrorist organization has been purchasing simple drones for more than a decade, and currently has dozens of them in its possession. "Back in 2021, Hamas used drones and UAVs," says Dr. Antebi. "Some of their drones crashed on their own or our side managed to shoot them down. And yet, this is one of our vulnerable points."

Dr. Antebi, who has studied the threat of drones for the past decade, believes Israel has not attached enough importance to the issue: "In Israel, the technologies were not sufficiently integrated into the security forces. What's amazing is that we have a tremendous ability to develop the technology and sell it, and people from all over the world come here to learn how to build an orderly infrastructure for the civilian operation of drones, but not enough is being done here."

In fact, already in 2017 and 2021, the State Comptroller stressed that the IDF did not have an answer to the threat of drones, and that it should undertake more work on the issue. Antebi says, "Unfortunately nobody took any interest in the report and this left the state insufficiently prepared to cope with the threat."

Dr. Pinko adds that declarations from Iran and Russia showing that they are already drawing lessons from the Hamas attack on Israel, are extremely worrying. "They say that the war is being studied. The use of drones by Hamas at the beginning of the war to close our sensor network and destroy it has been learned. The threat will intensify."

What should Israel do in the future

According to Dr. Antebi, the threat of drones is here to stay, and Israel must prepare for it as soon as possible. We need to look ahead to existing off the shelf products that our enemies can use against us. "At the same time, it is also possible to derive value from the uncontrolled distribution of these tools, so it is appropriate to systematically support initiatives that will make it possible to utilize the use of civilian tools for security purposes or any other positive initiative."

The IDF Spokesperson said, "The IDF is dealing with the threat of drones, developing methods, means and technological solutions to deal with this threat in recent years, in accordance with the development of threats on the battlefield. The issue is being studied and developed all the time, including during the war."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on November 2, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

DJI drone credit: Reuters MAGO/Eibner
DJI drone credit: Reuters MAGO/Eibner
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