On its Golan Heights frontier with Syria, field intelligence battalions of the Israel Defense Forces are using an increasing number of drones that are transforming how it operates.
“Every day we have a drone above Israel or Syria for any military operation,” said Yotam Gillon, the commander of the IDF Northern Command’s 595th Field Intelligence Battalion, which operates along the most active part of the Golan Heights, the Alpha line. “It can be for taking photos or other things; our drones have many uses. We use them every day, sometimes even twice or three times a day to collect intelligence and many other things.”
Gillon’s battalion consists of combat field intelligence soldiers who gather intelligence using various collection systems, including drones, and observers in a situation room who closely monitor the volatile Israel-Syria frontier around the clock for any potential threats.
Such battalions are permanently based in their respective areas of responsibility. As a result, they develop a deep and detailed understanding and knowledge of their particular sector. For example, while the 595th focuses its efforts entirely on monitoring Northern Command’s Syria Sector, other similar units are focused on Israel’s frontiers with the Gaza Strip (the 414th Battalion) and Lebanon (the 869th Battalion).
These specialist battalions can effectively maneuver together with the IDF’s various infantry and armored brigades to jointly combat any potential threats that emerge in their sectors.
“The field intelligence battalions of the Northern Command are integral to the task of protecting the security of the residents of the north,” said Major General Amir Baram, Commander of the Northern Command.
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Drones are significantly enhancing the abilities of these battalions to do so. Gillon explained that his troops carry small drones that they can quickly launch and use for scanning their immediate surroundings, which significantly increases their situational awareness and ability to identify potential threats.
He also anticipates that his troops will soon get small loitering munitions, otherwise known as “kamikaze” or “suicide drones,” that individual soldiers can carry and use for neutralizing enemy combatants in close-quarters fighting. Drones carried by soldiers at present are made for surveillance purposes.
The 595th Battalion uses a variety of drones for surveillance missions.
The DJI Mavic Pro is a small skimmer designed for carrying out mapping tasks, while the Matrice 100 can carry sensors and a camera with an optical zoom of 30x and a digital zoom of 256x. The Sentinel G3 drone is even capable of dropping leaflets, for either warning civilians in enemy areas to evacuate or for psychological warfare purposes.
Gillon explained that the development of fully autonomous drones will also greatly enhance the capabilities of battalion’s like his and further reduce the potential risks to soldiers. However, he noted they have not yet reached that point.
“We’ve got semi-autonomous drones that require a pilot for take-offs and landings,” he said. “We can give the drone coordinates and instruct them what altitude to fly and for how long. We have such semi-autonomous drones but not yet fully autonomous drones.”
“We’re developing them, we want this, and it will happen,” he added. “It’s just a question of time.”
Such autonomous drones will be able to scan Israel’s border for potential threats day and night independently. Such a capability, Gillon pointed out, eliminates the risks that come with having soldiers patrol these same areas on the ground.
In three separate incidents over the course of three successive days in February, the IDF lost drones over the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Syria.
Gillon described these losses as unfortunate but noted that the IDF can erase the memories of these drones remotely before their batteries are depleted to ensure “our intelligence will not go to the enemy.”
Israel has several drone projects in the works and is trying to increase their respective operational ranges, payloads, and speed.
Aside from drones designed and built for different attack and reconnaissance missions, the Israeli military is also working on drones for logistical operations.
“If I want supply soldiers in the field, instead of sending a truck, I can send a drone,” Gillon said.
Such abilities could markedly reduce the risk of resupply operations into enemy areas, particularly to besieged troop positions or other areas that are difficult or risky to reach on the ground.
Overall, developments like these are yet another example of how drones are significantly changing, if not revolutionizing, how modern wars are fought.
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