February 24, 2010

PRE-EMPTIVE WAR IS TOO LOW RISK FOR NOT STRIKING TO BE JUSTIFIABLE :

How Israel's Biggest Drone Could Take Out Iranian Nukes: This week the Israeli Air Force held a ceremony spotlighting the "operational acceptance" of its biggest unmanned aerial vehicle. Here, we explore how Israel could use this new vehicle to take out Iranian nukes. For an in-depth look at the way the U.S. Air Force is remaking its UAV fleet, check out the cover story of the March 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics, on stands now. (Joe Pappalardo, February 23, 2010, Popular Mechanics)

This week the Israeli Air Force (IAF) held a ceremony spotlighting the "operational acceptance" of its biggest unmanned aerial vehicle, the 4.5-ton Heron TP, or "Eitan." The far-flying UAV, with a wingspan almost as long as a 737 airliner, appeared on the runway with a comparatively diminutive F-15 alongside it. The IAF already rushed this UAV into action during the 2008–'09 war in Gaza, so the ceremony really served as a reminder to Iran that its drone fleets can reach the nation. But how will Israel use them?

The Eitan can carry a ton of payload and can reach Iran's nuclear facilities, which the United Nations last week determined is hiding an active weapons program. But that does not mean these will be used as bombers. The IAF has been buying and upgrading airplanes specifically for long-distance strikes such as a potential attack against Iran. At least 50 F-15 Raam and F-16 Soufa aircraft have been converted by installing extra fuel tanks for greater range and countermeasures to defeat radar and missiles. So maybe the warplane/UAV tag team presented at the "operational acceptance ceremony" speaks to how manned and unmanned aircraft will work together on missions: The drone provides information while the manned airplanes drop the guided munitions.

Working from high altitudes, the Eitan will likely be used to provide prestrike information on targets, to eavesdrop on electronic communications and to send battle damage assessments back after an attack. It will also undoubtably be used to monitor any retaliation for the airstrike—seeking rocket launches and eavesdropping on Iran. The onboard power required to electronically jam radar and communications equipment is not in the Eitan, Israeli defense industry officials told the trade journal Defense News. But the ability to carry so much weight opens up questions about the drones' ability to conduct long-range, high-risk bombing missions on their own.

Early literature suggested the Eitan would have a role in shooting down enemy missiles in flight as well as in bombing targets. But the craft at the ceremony featured a pod under the nose that contains only sensors, which can track moving targets at high resolution, day or night. Eitanhas the eyes of a predator, but seemingly no claws. Unless, of course, the less public Israeli Eitan fleet has hidden surprises in UAVs' bays or tacked onto the wings at various hard points.


David will always beat Goliath.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 24, 2010 6:50 AM
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