TEL AVIV: As Israel has grown its reputation as an exporter of military unmanned vehicles, the country has still kept a strict rule about not acknowledging the use of its own capabilities — including a legal muzzle censoring any reporting about the use of armed drones.
Then, after twenty years of that censorship in place, on July 20 the government lifted the ban. Which raises the question: why now? According to multiple sources, the move came as a result of growing pressure from Israel’s domestic military industry.
Israel’s use of armed drones has certainly been reported on by media outside the country, but industrial firms have had to be circumspect when discussing whether their products could carry weapons. In fact, that desire for more sales appears to have played a critical part in the decision to end the gag rule for Israeli press.
Military UAVs are hardly a new technology on the world stage, and Israel first purchased an armed UAV — the Elbit Hermes 450, known in the Air Force as “Zick” (Spark) — in 1990. It has since been used to in Gaza and Lebanon. In more recent years, systems such as the IAI Heron-TP strategic UAV have been used by Israel. At this point, roughly 80 percent of the total flight hours performed the IAF are with UAVs, according to the Jerusalem Post, and it has been clear for some time that those are not simply ISR operations.
But interest in the systems is spiking again thanks to the success of armed drones in recent conflicts, and particularly the extremely public success of the Turkish-built Bayraktar TB2 drones in Ukraine. Already worried they were falling behind on potential drones sales to Turkey, Communist China and other competitors, Israeli industry has been putting increased pressure on the government to help it increase sales.
Part of that pressure began last year with an effort to get the government to remove voluntary restrictions in line with the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), limiting the export of drones with certain ranges and payloads. While Jerusalem is still holding to the MTCR standards, the concerns raised by industry around that issue helped set the stage for a push to at least be able to talk openly about what industry can offer potential customers.
“It was obvious that things have changed and that Israel has to change its attitude if it does not want to lose more potential markets,” a senior defense industry source said.
The full details of the IAF’s fleet of armed UAV’s are still classified but it can be said that the combination of long-endurance UAV’s with special payloads and special weapon systems enables Israel to “hit far and hard” as one defense source said.
A recent agreement with Germany to lease a number of Heron TP systems underlines the oddity of the censorship rule. The German Defense Ministry made no effort to hide that the goal was to have armed drones, and has stated the Heron has Israeli-made weapons that are capable of aborting their trajectory towards the target to avoid civilian harm.
In fact, a second Israel defense source that talked with Breaking Defense on condition of anonymity said that the German crews that came to an IAF base saw the armed UAV’s and relayed the information to their commanders, which initiated the German interest in an armed Heron TP.
And yet, in Israel, press were barred from being able to talk about the use of armed Israeli drones. Now, that is set to change. Whether it opens up the market in a meaningful way for Israel’s industry will only be seen with time.
This content is courtesy of, and owned and copyrighted by, https://breakingdefense.com and its author. This content is made available by use of the public RSS feed offered by the host site and is used for educational purposes only. If you are the author or represent the host site and would like this content removed now and in the future, please contact USSANews.com using the email address in the Contact page found in the website menu.