An RT SkyStar 300 system operates along the Gaza border, but is not involved in the current Protective Edge operation. (RT LTA Systems)
TEL AVIV — An Israeli aerostat provider whose power-by-the-hour surveillance services have been used to protect targets as varied as Vladimir Putin to Madonna is working under fire along the Gaza border in support of Israeli forces.
Rami Shmueli, chief executive of RT LTA Systems, said the firm has fielded civilian teams to operate about a dozen SkyStar 180 aerostats, providing tactical intelligence and surveillance data from various points along the Gaza border.
SkyStar 180 joins larger SkyStar 300 systems operated by RT in support of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operations under a multiyear leasing contract with Israel’s MoD.
Each system is designed to withstand 40-knot winds and extreme temperatures for 72 hours of continuous intelligence and targeting data over wide areas in real time.
In Israel, SkyStars are equipped with the Speed-A payload by Controp, its subcontractor of choice based in Hod Hasharon, although RT can accommodate myriad payloads.
“We prefer to work with Controp, whose capabilities have proven to be excellent over many years. But we’ll carry any payload the customer prefers,” he said.
RT’s SkyStar production line of helium-filled aerostats tethered to ground systems is co-located at company headquarters in Yavne, a town repeatedly targeted by Gaza-launched rockets.
When asked if intermittent rocket alarms have disrupted business, Shmueli replied: “Our office is empty. We’re all on the Gaza border. We’re all part of the operation… and in the end, our business is about protecting the soldiers and the communities.”
Johnny Carni, vice president for marketing at Controp, said his firm is proud of its contribution in the ongoing Operation Protective Edge, now in its 22nd day.
“Without getting into too much detail, much of the imagery coming from Gaza that you see on YouTube and in the media is coming from our products,” he said.
Shmueli, a former director of aerostat operations in an elite military intelligence unit, said SkyStar made its operational debut in Gaza in 2006, providing power-by-the-hour video for IDF Southern Command. In Israel’s Cast Lead incursion into Gaza in 2008-2009, RT teams operated two systems.
Since then, MoD has contracted the firm to provide services from its fleet of larger SkyStar 300 aerostats when needed. Under the multiyear leasing contract, RT owns, operates and services the systems and is responsible for maintaining enough mission-ready operating teams to meet requirements.
“We understand that because of budget constraints, a country or an organization cannot always procure our products,” Shmueli said.
“So in addition to procurement and technical support services, we offer leasing packages that are all inclusive.”
In a July 29 interview, Shmueli said it takes only two people 20 minutes to inflate and fly SkyStar 180 and its 20-kilogram payload. For the larger 50-kilogram carrying SkyStar 300, it takes 40 minutes to launch continuous, 72-hour operations.
RT’s power-by-the-hour mission portfolio includes support for the Russian Presidential Guard at a recent Putin-hosted G8 Summit; Israel Police monitoring of an outdoor Madonna concert in Tel Aviv; and security services at last month’s World Cup games in Brazil. ■