Israel has employed the Skylark UAV to help find three kidnapped teenagers. (Elbit)
TEL AVIV — The Elbit Systems-produced Skylark UAV is chalking up hundreds of flight hours in “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” Israel’s ongoing incursion in the West Bank targeting the Hamas organization it blames for last Thursday’s abduction of three Israeli teens.
Now in its fifth day, the operation is steadily expanding from its initial focus on the area south of Hebron to points throughout the Palestine Authority-administered territory.
Defense sources here say the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has deployed nearly a division-sized force of infantry, paratroopers and commandos supported by hundreds of operatives from the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police.
Use of the Skylark in support of ground forces engaged in house-to-house maneuvering operations marks the first wide-scale deployment of the system since it was first fielded in 2010, sources here say.
The tactical UAV, known here as Skyrider, is operated by the IDF’s Artillery Corps. In the current operation, it is used not in its primary “sensor-to-shooter” mission, but rather in a mission-tailored “sensor-to-commander” role aimed at minimizing casualties of uninvolved civilians, said Maj. Aviv Koltonof, deputy commander of the Skyrider Unit.
“In our training, we work on bringing critical intelligence in real time to the shooters,” Koltonof told reporters here Tuesday.
But in Operation Brother’s Keeper, the system is being used more in a force protection role, spotting local Palestinians on rooftops who may pose a threat to approaching ground forces.
“We are bringing very unique information to the forces working down in the streets, since they cannot see what’s up on the roofs,” Koltonof said.
“They can’t see things over the next house to know if there are any people there who can assist the enemy.”
In contrast, he said, Skylark has an unobstructed view of potential threats at ranges of up to 15 kilometers.
Koltonof credited Skyrider surveillance operations for thwarting attacks on IDF ground troops as well as unnecessary clashes with civilians.
“Every night, [UAV-generated intelligence] allows our forces to change their route of entering the village. ... Or it allows them to abort the mission,” he said.
The IDF officer said several teams from the Artillery Corps are operating simultaneously in the West Bank theater, flying “very close to the ground,” at altitudes of 300-400 meters.
High-resolution day and night imagery generated from the UAV’s payload, by Hod Hasharon-based Controp Precision Technologies, is streamed over the IDF’s secure Tzayad digital C4I network to war rooms in Israel, and to company and battalion commanders in the field.
“Our mission is to bring this unique information to the ground forces, who know what to do with it,” he said.