The IDF is embarking on a procurement program for a new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed to perform as an organic asset of the land forces brigades. The Ground Forces Command (GFC) is expected to complete the evaluation phase by June 2010, following the completion of the requirements draft. Flight evaluations are expected to begin in March 2010, and include systems such as the IAI iView 50, and Elbit Systems’ Skylark II.
It is not clear yet whether the IDF will also examine foreign systems, but UAVs competing for similar programs in the US (STUAS) include a new version of the Australian Aerosonde UAV, developed by AAI – a company that has extensive relations with Israel’s Aeronautics Defense Systems, which opted not to compete in the previous phase of the Israeli ‘Brigade UAV’ program. As an Australian system, Aerosonde is less restricted by U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regulation which complicates the export of U.S. weapon systems.
Based on this ‘flyoff’, that will demonstrate the maturity of the systems the IDF is expected to select the system for procurement. The first system expected to be delivered this year, will be operated by a new unit established at the IDF ground forces command, to be responsible for formulating he operating concepts and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures of the new system. This process is expected to continue through 2011, leading to the refinement of systems requirements for the final UAVs.
At present UAVs are operated at two levels – the high and medium altitude, represented by Heron TP (Eitan), the Heron I (Shoval) and Hermes 450 (Ziq). All these UAVs are operated by the Israel Air Force and support the military and national defense needs, from the strategic level to the operational, corps and division levels. The man-portable Skylark I LE to be operated at the very low altitude controlled and operated by field units at battalion level and below. The new UAV will be operated and supported by the brigade, as an integral, field deployable asset. The new UAV will be able the brigade to integrate all intelligence sensors and fires, offering the brigade unprecedented flexibility and rapid response.
One of the approaches considered by the IDF GFC is the establishment of the Army UAV Corps, a new formation to assume responsibility for the operation and support of all unmanned aerial systems – from the Skylark LE to the new brigade UAV, and future cargo lifter. The new formation will contribute to streamline the organizational, training and logistical support of UAV related systems and manpower.