Next month the Israel Defense Forces’ Artillery “Sky Riders” Unit will begin trial operations for the “Skylark 3,” a new drone produced by the Haifa-based firm Elbit. In the coming months the unit will begin operating unmanned aerial vehicles for brigade commanders. The new unmanned aerial vehicle is able to remain in flight longer and is equipped with more advanced photographic equipment.
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Until now, the mixed-gender combat unit has been made up of either male- or female-only combat teams that carry up to three drones which can result in an accumulated weight of up to 40 kilograms. While in the past female-only combat teams were helped to transport drones in the field, the weight of the new model will necessitate transportation assistance regardless of the gender, and as such has prompted the creation of new mixed-gender combat teams. At present, female soldiers comprise 25 percent of the unit.
According to one unit commander, the role of field drone operators in the unit is very different to other IDF drone-operating teams, such as those belonging to the Israel Air Force. In this case the drone is controlled directly from/in the field, and not from a distant air-conditioned office elsewhere in the country. This, the officer explains, is the unit’s key operational advantage.
The new innovations refine the operational capabilities of field forces during combat, and battalion commanders will be able to operate independently in terms of intelligence collecting, such as scanning an area before an attack. With teams operating among ground forces the quality of intelligence that forms the crucial situation updates, upon which the battalion commanders rely, will be greatly improved.
Despite the decision to introduce the use of similar drones by battalion commanders nearly a decade ago, the plan had since stalled. In 2012 the IDF began operational testing for drones on the Israel-Egypt border, however ceased due to budgetary shortfalls.
In recent months, the unit has been accruing operational experience of the drone in anticipation of its integrated introduction this summer. The drone will be able to fly for around six hours, and be able to travel approximately 100 kilometers. Among other advances, the drone uses a parachute-assisted landing system in order to protect its image-capturing equipment.