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Kamikaze Drones

September 5, 2019 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By UVision
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army



In July 2019, news emerged that the US Department of Defense (DoD) wants to purchase the Hero-120 loitering drone (termed "kamikaze" or "killer" drones) from Israel for operations by US Special Operations Forces (SOF). The DoD was seeking permission from the Congress for $6.9 million in order to 'immediately procure' an undisclosed number of the canister-launched tactical anti-structure/anti-armor loitering munition produced by UVision.

In 2018, America's Marine Corps' Rapid Capabilities Office with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory had issued a request for information (RFI) for an organic precision fire systems which is capable of providing fire support at distances of 40-60 km for use against stationary, mobile land or sea targets in all operating environments. Designed to be deployed from land, naval or airborne platforms from a reusable canister, the Hero-120 has a BLOS (beyond line of site) capability, able to strike targets 40 km away from the launch site. However, with the ability to fly at 18,000 feet at a speed of 50-100 knots, operators can use a directional antenna and extend its BLOS range of 40 km to a range of 150 km. Hero-120 can carry different warheads, from 1.5 kg to 4.5 kg, which can also feature air-burst fragmentation for anti-personnel effect, point detonation for targets like vehicles or infrastructure, a proximity mode for windows and doors and a High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) option that can allow operators to strike armored personnel carriers or main battle tanks (MBTs). Hero-120 is equipped with GPS/INS navigation as well as electro-optical/infrared reconnaissance and a terminal guidance package. With a two-way data link, the munition, which can dive to its target at 100 knots, can also be fully aborted and re-engaged mid-air. The mid-size loitering munition, with its high-speed transit flight and low-speed loitering capabilities as well as its precision (circular error probable of <1 m.) give its operators a critical advantage in confined or urban battlefields. UVision has already sold Hero loitering munitions to multiple customers, including the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and leading NATO countries. Advancements in drone technology like Hero-120 make it difficult for the enemy to shoot them down.

Incidentally, US drones have reportedly been shot down in the past on six occasions: September 11, 1944 – America's earliest B-17 UAV (modified and remotely controlled B-17 bomber) was shot down by German forces; 1991 – 2 x RQ-2A Pioneer UAVs deployed in Kuwait-Iraq were shot down; April 7, 1999 - RQ-5A Hunter UAV then costing $300,000 was shot down over Kosovo; March 17, 2015 - MQ-1 Predator UAV costing $5 million shot down by Syrian forces; June 6, 2019 - MQ-9 Reaper costing $30.2 million shot down by Houthi rebels over Yemen, and; June 20, 2019 - RQ-9 Global Hawk costing $110 million shot down over Strait of Hormuz. On August 25, 2019, Israel claimed responsibility for airstrikes near Damascus, saying it foiled 'large-scale attack' by Iran. IDF claimed responsibility for the airstrikes, saying it was necessary to thwart multiple attacks by what it called killer, or kamikaze, drones, of a kind not previously used by Iranian forces against Israel.

Unlike more standard attack drones, which fire missiles towards their targets, the killer drone acts as its own missile by flying into the target itself. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, "I repeat: Iran has no immunity anywhere. Our forces operate in every direction against Iranian aggression. He who rises to kill you, kill him first." Two US officials told CNN the US government believes Israel was likely involved in a strike north of Baghdad in July, and likely targeted militia groups that have a close relationship with Iran. The US officials also said the US was looking at several possible scenarios that could involve Iran or its proxies carrying out an attack in retaliation. Israel's UVision has produced another loitering munition (Hero-400EC) which has a range of 100 km and an 'additional' loitering time of 30 minutes. Hero-400EC can carry a 22 pound warhead. Kamikaze Drones have the capacity of rapid escalation, besides having the capacity to strike unsuspecting locations without notice, while keeping the source ambiguous. That is what enables Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who also acts as Defence Minister, say, "We act in many arenas against a country which seeks to destroy us. Of course, I have given the security forces a free hand and the instruction to do what is needed to thwart these plans of Iran." More significantly, the threat from such platforms with rebel forces and terrorist organizations need to be taken into account, acknowledging the fact that there are no non-state actors in the real sense; these are invariably supported by a state or states. The arsenal of Houthi rebels including missiles and drones being one example.