A Hovering Threat
(Source: Israeli Air Force; issued Sept. 29, 2020)
Over the last few years, drones, as well as explosive balloons and kites, have developed into a significant threat to Israel's security. To provide an operational solution, the IAF created a unit that specializes in such threats. Read about the Divisional Air Control Center

In recent years, there has been an increase in the use of terrorist drones, balloons, and kites as weapons against Israeli civilians and soldiers. The IDF sees this as a significant threat to Israeli security that requires units to work together to search for viable solutions to thwart it. As a response, the IDF formed the Divisional Air Control Center, a body that specializes in low altitude aerial threats. The divisional control units are inter-branch (Ground and Air) extensions of the regional ATC units in each Ground Force's division.

A Commercial Threat

Over the last decade, cheap commercially produced multi-use drones, have developed into a serious security threat. "Generally, weapons systems are developed over several years, which enables Israeli intelligence to gather the necessary information for formulating effective solutions," opened Maj. G, head of anti-drone munitions in the 'Magen' (shield) directorate. "However, drones are available in civilian markets, allowing anyone to buy one at any time for cheap price and potentially cause serious harm".

Drones are small, easy to maneuver, and can carry explosives. They can hover in place, find a target, and hit it. Balloons, kites, and model airplanes with attached explosives have recently joined the category of low altitude aerial threats as well. "Drones have the potential to cause immense damage, both within the country and along its borders," explained Maj. G. "Drones can be used in a wide variety of dangerous methods: as a weapon by attaching explosives, terror attacks, smuggling drugs or other items, targeting, and reconnaissance".

Drones are both aerial and ground threats, as a terrorist on the ground controls them. Given the size and complexity of the IDF, it had to decide whether the ground forces or the air force would lead the response to the threat. "We are witnessing a drastic change in the aerial arena that is no longer as 'simple' as one air force vs. another. There is an entire low-altitude airfield full of an ever-increasing amount of factors", he continued.

On All Fronts

To provide an effective solution to the emerging problem, the national counter-drone task force was formed, as part of the "Magen" (Shield) directorate in the IAF with the participation of other involved parties. "We are responsible for overseeing and developing the means to thwart drone threats and for creating the national approach for managing new technology, personnel, and cooperating with the relevant government bodies", described Maj. G.

The task force developed detection and targeting systems. "We recognized that the world of drones is evolving quickly and that we don't have several years as usual. We understood we must act fast", he added. "We created systems that provided a temporary solution in a very short timeframe, while simultaneously working on more permanent solutions. To this date, we use a wide covering detection system, which acts as an operational solution across three of the IDF's zones of activity - Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza strip".

In the operational command room, control NCOs sit with an intelligence officer from the IAF and field intelligence and observation officers from the Ground Forces. Combining the two forces creates a unit that sees the complete picture and thus offers an effective solution. We must speak each other's language", said Col. A, Commander of the ATC Division. The idea that each branch operates in its own sterile space is disappearing. The way to win future wars is by collaborating on an inter-branch scale", said Maj. G.

"The IAF has a wide and general view and can synchronize the overall aerial activity, however, it does not deal with alerting a tank on the border of an incoming drone. Our intelligence focuses on different aspects of a bigger picture than the Ground Force's regional intelligence. Each participant brings its strengths to the table. The cooperation is what will lead us to win the next war."

Every territorial division has its regular command, intelligence, and changing on-call combat forces. The divisional control unit trains the forces when they arrive. "The divisional control unit is responsible for a geographical area in the larger territory controlled by the regional ATC unit", explained Col. A. "The regional ATC unit controls the activity of manned aircraft. Therefore, if an aircraft flies within a divisional air control unit's designated airspace, the ATC unit must coordinate accordingly. The project of opening divisional air control units turned from an idea to reality and so far, its results have spoken for themselves.

The Gaza division's control unit gained experience as a pilot project. "We participated in three rounds of fighting that challenged us greatly. We are still learning. After the trial period, the IDF's General Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi decided to implement the model in every territorial division", shared Maj. S. "Recently, a divisional air control unit has opened on Israel's northern border, with plans of opening units in the IDF Central Command and along the Syrian border," he continued.

A Changing Reality

"It is our duty to protect citizens from threats on the ground, in the air, at sea, and underground. Drones have entered the long list of dangerous threats that must be addressed. It is our responsibility to ensure that all Israeli citizens can live their lives in peace and to defend them in all dimensions", said Col. A. "We created an optimal solution that brings the strengths of each involved party and shows results. Both forces made adaptations to meet in the middle and produce", concluded Maj. S.

Our environment is constantly evolving - technologically, socially, and politically on a global scale. "We as an army must embrace change and acclimate to the world around us. The ATC division operated under the command of the IDF General Staff, and found a way to adapt to the changing reality and protect the low-altitude airspace", concluded Maj. G.

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