Israel’s Air & Space Force (IAF) has recently reactivated the 144th squadron at Hatzor air force base, a new unit destined to operate Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) under a new multi-domain force sharing IAF, ground, and intelligence forces assets. Although the squadron is located at an airbase, it will move with the ground and air-mobile forces and operate its Orbiter 4 drones from forward, unprepared locations, independently of airfields. Aeronautics’ Orbiter 4 STUAS is designated ‘Nitzoz’ – Spark in Hebrew. This aerial platform provides operators with unique operational flexibilities – the ability to deploy runway-independent UAS using rail launchers or Vertical TakeOff and Landing (VTOL) deployment, with a minimal logistical footprint. Such drones enable full mission autonomy through 24-hour operation, using multiple payload carriage capabilities.
Nitzoz will provide the aerial layer of Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) ‘Storm Clouds’ program. This ambitious “system of systems” is part of the comprehensive automation of wide-area surveillance, target acquisition, and automated intelligence processing, empowering small forces.
[wlm_nonmember]Subscribe to read more about the ‘Storm Clouds’ program.[/wlm_nonmember]
[wlm_ismember]In recent months RAFAEL and Aeronautics has unveiled several capabilities that, potentially, could be associated with such programs:
A unique Wide Area Persistent Surveillance (WAPS) payload developed by Rafael for the Orbiter-4 is key to the ‘Storm Cloud’ mission success. This payload is a unique wide-area persistent surveillance payload enabling STUAS to perform such demanding missions. On a typical mission, the Orbiter 4 with Microlite flies a few thousand feet above the ground, capturing a wide area with ultra-high resolution full-motion video. Throughout the mission, the drone serves as a surveillance hub on the cloud, providing users with high-resolution video and imagery of the areas of interest they find relevant to their mission. The ability to hold a wide area of open or urban terrain, tracking every object and movement in that area, provides effective real-time surveillance and unique intelligence insights through forensic analysis, back-tracking certain events to their origin. Rafael demonstrated the integration of Microlite within a wide-area surveillance system for the first time at the Modern-Day Marine 2022 expo.
Having ‘Storm Clouds’ connected to battle management and weapon systems enables these advanced sensors and data processing systems to become part of a ‘sensor-to-shooter’ system that can exploit the information gained by the sensors. Rafael’s ‘Fire Weaver’ is a system that connects sensors and shooters within battalion-size tactical formations. Rafael has recently introduced a complete sensor-to-shooter system called ‘Spike NMT’ that integrates the Microlite WAPS sensors flown on Orbiter-4 drones, BNET software-defined radio network integrating the Fire Weaver battle management system. The system is based on Spike NLOS 6 missiles, mounted on light 4×4 armored vehicles, capable of engaging targets over 40 – 50 kilometers. However, the integration of Fire Weaver will enable the battlegroup to operate any weapon within range of the target that is allocated to it. These can include precision-guided rockets, artillery, loitering weapons, or other assets. Rafael introduced Spike NMT at the Eurosatory 2022 exhibition.
Another new capability unveiled by Aeronautics at the Eurosatory 2022 exhibition is the Trojan Unmanned Hover Plane (UHP), a VTOL aerial system that bridges the gap between hovering, utilizing rotary wing and high-efficiency, high-speed flight, using fixed-wing aerodynamic design. With a wingspan of 4.2 m’, and a gross takeoff weight of 45 Kg, Trojan can carry multiple payloads of up to 12 kg. The UHP uses both, enabling this flying machine to introduce game-changing capabilities for battlespace dominance by providing Wide-Area-Persistent-Surveillance (WAPS) in versatile and dynamic environments.
Leveraging the ability to perform aerial missions with pinpoint accuracy at long ranges, Trojan enables new capabilities in aerial reconnaissance, surveillance, and target pursuit over wide areas and long ranges. With battery power sustaining 2.5 hours of flight time and 150 km. With a low acoustic signature, Trojan uses terrain following to penetrate deep into the enemy area covertly, day, or night, to autonomously land, perch, and stare over an area of interest. Using the built-in solar array embedded in the wing, it recharges its batteries in daylight. The platform uses several communications links, using encrypted datalinks over Line of Sight (LOS) using Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) or cellular (LTE) connectivity.
Designed with an open architecture, Trojan can accommodate multiple sensors similar in weight and size to those operated by Orbiter 4. Integral sensors and powerful image processing perform terrain following flight, AI-driven image analysis and targeting, hemispheric situational awareness (for self-defense while in perch position), 3D mapping to support autonomous landing, and automatic takeoff. The Trojan is controlled by a single operator from a remote base station that performs mission planning, monitoring, and payload control. The UHP can operate autonomously throughout the mission, and each unit can network with three additional platforms to operate as a swarm.
IAF 144th Squadron was established in 1972 as a fighter squadron flying the IAI Nesher fighter aircraft, a version of the Israeli-produced Dassault Mirage 5. The squadron participated in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In 1977 the squadron received the first IAI Kfir fighter planes, and in 1981 moved to the new airbase in Ovda. The squadron later moved to Hatzor, where it operated the F-16s. In 2005 the squadron was deactivated and was reactivated on 1st August as the first Spark UAS squadron.