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Israeli AF Operates Unmanned Aircraft for Maritime Patrol

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Watching Over the Sea

(Source: Israeli Air Force; issued Nov 26, 2018)

"Most of Israel's energy relies on drilling rigs located in Israel's territorial waters", said Capt. G', Commander of the Naval Scouting Division located in Palmahim AFB. "These are strategic structures of great importance and our job is to protect them".

Israel's naval territory is critical to the country's economy. "Over 90% of Israeli trade goes through the sea, and one of our missions is to allow the economy to flow freely", described Lt. Col. Y', the Commander of the 200th ("First RPAV") Squadron, which is home to the Naval Scouting Division.

Together, they are responsible for protecting Israel's territorial waters. Dozens of miles are under their authority and their role is to detect any naval vessel nearing Israel's territory, classify it according to its hostility potential and if necessary, escort an IAF aircraft in order to strike or take over that same target.

Temporary Becomes Permanent

March 5th 1975, night time. Eight terrorists depart from Lebanon in inflatable boats, avoiding IDF radars and docking on the beach in Tel Aviv. They take hostages and arrive at the "Savoy" hotel, trapping the hostages in the top floor. Afterwards, they rig the whole floor with explosives.

Sayeret Matkal combatants break into the hotel after long hours of negotiation, causing the terrorists to set off the explosives and kill three soldiers and eight civilians. Following the event, Israel's security forces realized that defensive naval activity must be heightened. The IAF took responsibility for the mission as a temporary solution, which later became permanent.

The Ideal Platform

Within just several years the 120th ("Desert Giants") Squadron, which operated "Shahaf" (Sea-Scan) aircraft, became an inseparable part of IAF naval reconnaissance. "In the beginning, people would sit on the aircraft with goggles and scan the shore", elaborated Sgt. R', a naval scout. "Over the years the aircraft was adjusted according to its mission, with the relevant radar and surveillance systems being installed". The aircraft participated in operational activity for 41 years before being decommissioned and replaced by the "Shoval" (Heron 1) RPAV (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicle).

Additional platforms participating in naval operations include surveillance systems located on the shore, "Atalef" (Panther) helicopters from the 193rd ("Defenders of the West") Squadron operating from Ramat-David AFB, missile boats and "Karnaf" (Hercules C-130) aircraft utilized by the Naval Scouting Division.

Which capabilities make the "Shoval" the ideal platform for the mission? "The 'Shoval' can fly long-range with minimum threats", said Lt. Col. Y'. Capt. G' added: "Missile boats can only establish a short-range naval overview and the systems on the shore aren't always capable of surveilling long-distance. With the 'Shoval', we can perform naval reconnaissance sorties and learn the goings-on of the theatre. Aerial naval reconnaissance is significant, and so we take part in nearly every Navy operation".

Defending the Sea

Several crew members man the control station during a naval reconnaissance mission: an RPAV operator, the mission commander, a surveillance officer from the Navy and naval scouts operating the various systems. "We work directly with the Navy's control division. Our job is to establish a naval overview ensuring that we know the location of each vessel, where it's sailing to and what its purpose is", explained Sgt. R'. "When we detect a suspicious vessel, we relay the info to the controller and continue monitoring it while remaining in contact with military intelligence".

The Naval Scouting Division operates not only in routine but also during sudden events. "Sometimes I see a vessel suddenly making its way into Israel's territorial waters, which raises a red flag", elaborated Sgt. R'. "While the camera is pointed at the vessel, we begin producing information: whether the vessel is big or small, whether it's a sailboat or something else. Before we scramble everyone, we have to realize what we're facing".

The Naval Scouting Division's importance in the squadron continues to grow overtime – nowadays, a process meant to adjoin RPAV operators to the naval reconnaissance control stations is underway. "We decided to turn them into an integral part of the squadron, operating alongside us from briefing and to activity", concluded Lt. Col. Y'.

"The Navy has an extensive set of tools and so does the air force, and so one of the most important things we can do is connect the forces on an interpersonal level. That is the only way for us to perform the mission as best we can".