Officially, Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV) are still
in early development, but such systems have already become important
players in modern combat operations, primarily by US and Israeli
forces operating in Low Intensive Warfare in the Middle East
and Afghanistan. Other countries, including several NATO members,
are also pursuing such capabilities.
were first used in significant numbers during the Vietnam War,
and later, in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, but these
were primarily reconnaissance platforms. The first lethal applications
of UAVs were considered as "suicide missions", utilizing
the slow flying unmanned aircraft as precision guided 'flying
bombs', which could loiter over enemy area for extended periods
of time, in search of active radars or guided missile sites.
During the late 1980s the first radar killer drone known as
Harpy was developed under cooperation between IAI and Diehl,
in a parallel program, another loitering weapon - the air-launched
Delilah missile was developed in Israel by IMI. Few years later
another, rather unique concept of combat drone was considered
by the Israel Ministry of defense, during the early 1990s, immediately
after the first Gulf war, when Israel was seeking a solution
to counter the threat of ballistic missiles.
One such concept was the MOAB
Boost-Phase Interceptor (BPI), which would have utilized a boosted
version of the Python 3 air-to-air missile, launched by an unspecified
stealthy High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs operating
deep over enemy territory. While Moab never reached even demonstration
stage, Israel has not abandoned this concept and, according
to foreign sources, deployed a full scale UAV centric BPLI system
for the first time during the 2006 Lebanon war, in an attempt
to hunt medium range rocket launchers used by the Hezbollah
to attack targets in Israel. While the system did not succeed
in eliminating the illusive short range rockets, the effectiveness,
life span, and survivability of long and medium range rockets
launchers was dramatically reduced as the war progressed.
The concept of an armed UAV was publicly outlined in 1996,
as the US Air Force Chief of Staff directed the study "UAV
Technologies and Combat Operations", recommending testing
and developing weaponized versions of high flying UAV, particularly
for Supression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) operations. During
allied operations in Kosovo, UAVs were supporting strike packages
to locate time-critical targets. Such targets were identified
and confirmed using the TV payloads carried by General Atomics
RQ-1 Predator UAVs.
However, targets frequently eluded the aerial strikes, due
to the delay between the target detection, attack preparation
process (targeting) and the actual execution of the attack.
Essential improvements applied on UAVs just after the operation
in Kosovo included the integration of laser designator in the
standard EO/IR UAV payload. Work on a weaponized version of
the Predator commenced, culminating in a series of test firings
of Lockheed martin Hellfire missiles from USAF Predator UAVs
in 2001. These platforms were later flown by the CIA and already
demonstrated dramatic results during operations in Iraq, Afghanistan
and Yemen. CIA operated Predators were credited with the elimination
of senior Al-Qaeda operatives and Taliban fighters in 2002.
Another example for an early generation armed UAVs is the Nothrop
Grumman / IAI MQ-5A Hunter, an armed derivative of the RQ-5A
UAV. This aircraft was also fitted with an extended wing, carrying
hard-points for two weapons such as Hellfire or Northrop Grumman
Viper-Strike munitions. The General Atomics Gnat UAV is also
designed to carry Hellfire missiles.
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