JERUSALEM — In a first for Israel, Elbit Systems is adding unmanned aerial system capabilities to its Seagull unmanned surface vehicle, according to the company.
The Seagull USV incorporates the Skylark C, a maritime drone based on the Skylark mini-UAS. The Seagull, which is currently operational and looks like a patrol boat, was designed as a solution for several missions, including anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures.
Elbit announced on July 8 that it had tested the new unmanned combo as a means to provide new intelligence gathering capabilities and improve situational awareness for naval forces. With a takeoff weight of 15 kilograms, the Skylark C provides a visual feed transmitted to land-based control units. The addition of a UAV also extends the Seagull operator’s line of sight.
Skylark C was unveiled in 2016 as an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance asset. As an electrically propelled drone with low visual and acoustic signature, the company advertised it as ideal for covert operations and special naval operations, such as anti-piracy missions.
Elbit demonstrated the Seagull — without the UAV capability — to the British Defence Ministry last month.
This concept of integrating UAVs with existing technology is part of a trend across Israel. Elbit has incorporated its MAGNI micro-drone onto vehicles and is selling large numbers of small and medium-sized UAVs to countries that want to integrate them throughout ground forces.
Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems acquired local drone-focused firm Aeronautics Limited last year in hopes of combining their capabilities. The move could see UAVs alongside optionally manned vehicles.
For its part, the U.S. Navy has experimented with the unmanned vessel Sea Hunter, but reports do not indicate UAVs have been added to it.
Drone-enabled fleets are becoming part of the future of naval operations: Small UAVs, such as the Scan Eagle, are deployed from manned ships, and manned submarines have also launched drones.
Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, has argued that while the U.S. currently uses USVs to conduct anti-submarine warfare, the Navy “should increase the role of unmanned systems.”
Seth Frantzman is the Israel correspondent for Defense News. He has been covering conflict in the Middle East since 2010. He has experience covering the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is a co-founder and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.