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Loitering Weapons are making a Comeback
Loitering munitions are making a comeback in recent years. First developed in the early 1980s as autonomous weapons, tasked primarily with Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) missions, hunting down highly mobile air defense missile units such as the SA-8 and SA-11, then considered illusive to almost all other SEAD weapons. Western air forces have realized encountering a capability gap in their ability to find, target and engage land-mobile surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, after failing to destroy Iraqi SCUD missiles fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia, duribg Operation Desert Storm 1991, despite having total air superiority over the entire Iraqi airspace. Initially embarking on several developments of loitering weapons, the Israelis are considered having the first air force to maintain such capability, provided by the IMI Delilah missile. This weapon was developed after the 1973 Yom Kippur War and matured under a joint Israeli-German radar-hunter ‘suicide drone’ in the early 1980s.
An electro-optically guided derivative of this weapon was developed under an Israeli-US program in the early 2000s.
While the Germans did not pursue the lethal drone, opting for the Rheimetall Defense KZOreconnaissance and target acquisition system version instead, Israel is believed to have followed the lethal direction, completing the development and fielding of the Harpy. This is considered to be among Israel’s leading missile products ever produced, gaining significant export markets, with China, South Korea, India and Turkey among its main international operators. The Germans have followed a similar developmental path with the Taifun killer drone. Recently, the German Armed Forces and the German Ministry of Defense (MOD) have also approved an operational requirement utilizing IAI's HAROP system as a baseline. The project will be implemented in cooperation with Rheinmetall Defense as the prime contractor. The German MOD has already invested funds for the adaptation of HAROP for its specific requirements. Part of the adaptation was successfully performed by a joint IAI/Rheinmetall Defense team, and a follow on contract is planned later this year (2009).