Intelligence: Low, Slow, Silent And Very Smart

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October 28, 2016: Israel has found UAVs with the right software are two of their most effective counter-terrorism tools. In particular Israel has found that smaller is often better, or at least more portable, easier to use and cheaper (thus something you can afford to lose in combat). It has now reached the point where small (under 46 kg/100 pounds) UAVs can carry powerful enough sensors to very accurately scrutinize what it passes over.

The software has evolved a lot since the 1990s and has always basically sought to use lots of digital photos to analyze for patterns and predict future enemy moves. The U.S. used versions of this in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Attempts to use it for police work revealed that it works, but many countries have privacy laws that make such systems illegal. Israel has no such problems on its borders, which are constantly being challenged by Islamic terrorists, smugglers and illegal migrants. UAVs with digital cameras came first and it was soon discovered that these systems were collecting far more data than could be effectively analyzed. That led to computerized analysis, which was a lot easier to do with digital images. By now the analysis systems can be run on a laptop collecting data from a small UAV. For backup a satellite link can connect you with some of the most powerful computers in the world.

Israel has found the best UAV for this is their Skylark 3, a 7 kg UAV that began as a much smaller and limited UAV in 2006. But it evolved and grew. Thus along the most dangerous borders Israel has to watch (Gaza, Lebanon and Syria) the Skylark is the UAV of choice, especially when the larger (more expensive and higher flying) UAVs spot a pattern indicating a threat. Unlike the larger (half ton and up) UAVs the Skylark flies low and silently (because of its electric motor) and can stay up three hours at a time.

Skylark has served the Israeli military well, which makes it easier to get export sales. In 2008, after four years of evaluation and further development, the Israeli Army adopted the Skylark 1 LE UAV as standard equipment for its combat battalions. While Skylark began in 2006 as a slightly larger rival for the popular U.S. Raven (a 2 kg/4.3 pound aircraft with one hour endurance), the Israelis found that a slightly larger UAV (6.8 kg/15 pounds, three hours endurance) fit the needs of battalion and company commanders better. Each Skylark 1 system consists of three aircraft, three vidcams (two day, one night) and a ground control unit (a laptop and some radio gear). The Skylark 1 can fly as high as 450 meters (1,500 feet) and operate up to 30 kilometers from the operator.

Like the Raven, Skylark 1 is battery operated, and very quiet. It is launched with an elastic cord (a bungee cord will do), and lands with the help of a reusable airbag. The army bought several hundred systems, with each battalion getting two or more systems. Skylark had already been exported to countries that have used the UAV in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several Israeli police and paramilitary organizations have also been using Skylark over the past four years, and the system has proved very useful for counter-terror operations.

The success of Skylark 1 led to Skylark 2 and Skylark 3. In early 2016 the Israeli manufacturer introduced the Skylark 3, a 45 kg (99 pound) UAV with 10 kg (22 pound) payload, an electric motor and an endurance of six hours. It is launched via a vehicle mounted catapult and can operate up to a hundred kilometers from the ground station. Skylark 3 is an improved Skylark 2, which entered service in 2007 and was a little smaller and had less range (60 kilometers from the base station). Like Skylark 2, Skylark 3 is intended for use by brigades and divisions.

In mid-2016 Israel revealed that it had developed a maritime version (Skylark C) of its Skylark 1 LE UAV. This was done by making Skylark 1 waterproof so that it could land via a parachute and be picked up and readied (via a fresh battery) for another sortie within 15 minutes. Like other versions of Skylark the Skylark C is launched using a small catapult and meant for use by small warships or patrol boats and carries a heat sensing sensor optimized for use over water. With a range of 30 kilometers and the ability to stay aloft for three hours at a time, the Skylark C extends the view of small craft beyond the horizon (about 24 kilometers for small craft) and allows the sailors to get a closer look at something more quickly because otherwise you have to move the patrol boat closer.

 


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