Air Defense: Morocco Buys Israeli AUDs

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December 13, 2021: North African nation Morocco has purchased several Israeli Skylock Dome AUD (Anti UAV Defense) vehicles. Some had already been delivered when the purchase was announced, a few days before the Israeli prime minister visited to sign a mutual defense and information sharing agreement. This will lead to diplomatic relations and Israeli investment in Morocco so that this Moslem nation can develop high-tech industries. Israel has long had unofficial relations with Morocco, which included sharing information on Islamic terrorist threats. Because of the 2020 Abraham Accords, it has become easier for Moslem nations to establish diplomatic or defense relationships with Israel, something Arab oil states see as imperative because of the mutual threat from Iran and the realization that Israel is a Semitic state where half the population are Arabs. Most of the Israeli Arabs are Jews expelled from their homelands in the late 1940s.

Skylock was seen as a good investment for Morocco because the system is combat proven against Iranian UAVs used during the early 2021 Hamas/Israel ten-day war with Israel where there were ample opportunities to test new Israeli AUD systems. Israel is a leader in the development of AUDs, mainly because it is the one country that faces the widest variety of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) types, and the most attacks using UAVs.

In preparation for a large-scale use of different type UAVs against Israel from Iran backed Hamas in the south or Hezbollah (Lebanon) and Iran (Syria), Israel had developed numerous ways to detect and destroy or disable hostile UAVs. During the recent ten-day war Israel detected and defeated six Hamas UAV attacks. There may have been other Hamas UAVs launched that never got near the border because of UAV malfunctions or operator error. The six UAVs that were a threat were all detected and taken down via missiles, usually from Iron Dome but one was an air-to-air missile, and at least one UAV was disabled using a technology that Israel would not discuss. This was probably one of the electronic AUD systems, which Israeli tech companies have developed over the last few years. One of the new (to large-scale combat) systems Israel would discuss was one that received data from all sensors (radars or electronic detection systems) and, in real time, created a single database/map display of all enemy systems detected. One feature of this new system’s software was an accurate estimate of where UAVs were launched from. This provides an opportunity to attack the UAV operator or launch site. This system was already causing more losses to Hamas rocket launching teams, who thought the Israelis were just getting lucky. Now Hamas knows that luck had nothing to do with it. Israel has often sought to come up with defenses against new enemy weapons or tactics with a multi-system solution. Nowhere has this been more evident than when it comes to the growing threat from armed UAVs.

For over a decade, many if not most new AUD systems have come from Israel. Many specialize in the use of multiple sensors and systems to detect and disable UAVs. The best and most recent example of this is Skylock, an AUD system using multiple sensors and EW (Electronic Warfare) equipment, plus a short-range laser, to detect, identify and jam or take over unidentified UAVs trying to enter military bases, airports, or industrial facilities. Skylock uses a combination of radar, electro-optical (visual) and electronic signal monitoring sensors capable of detecting the smallest UAVs, especially quad-copters, approaching a restricted area. Another Israeli approach is to use an interceptor UAV that can drop a net on a UAV but the preferred method is to jam the UAV control signals or, if possible, seize control and land it.

A growing number of AUDs are built to deal with any small UAV. One of the more effective, and expensive of these AUDs is the Israeli Drone Dome system. These cost $3.4 million each and consist of a 360-degree radar system, an electro-optical day/night surveillance unit and a wideband (most frequencies drones use) detector. With all this Drone Dome can reliably detect any small quadcopter or fixed-wing UAV within 3,500 meters. Most quadcopters and UAVs encountered are larger and can be detected out to ten kilometers. Once spotted, Drone Dome can use a focused jamming signal that will disrupt any radio control signals and force the drone to crash or operate erratically. Drone Dome has an optional laser gun that can be aimed by Drone Dome to destroy the drone at ranges up to 2,000 meters. In a combat zone, you can also employ machine-guns to bring down the drone. Many buyers do not purchase the laser option and depend on Drone Dome being able to reliably detect all manner of small quadcopters from several manufacturers.

What makes Skylock and Drone Dome different is their heavy use of electronic sensors to detect and jam the control signals used by UAVs, leaving the laser as a last resort. Several such AUD systems are already in service and effective because they are good at detecting UAVs electronically, and either jamming those control signals or taking over the control signals and capturing (by making it land) the UAV. American troops in Iraq and Syria were asking for AUD systems that used lasers and better UAV detection systems as well those with jammers to disable UAVs. There is also a need for AUDs that can detect and destroy UAVs that do not use control signals and basically go on pre-programmed missions. This can be to take photos or deliver a small explosive. Usually, it is to take photos and return. Drone Dome is one of several AUD systems equipped to detect and locate UAVs operating in pre-programmed mode and destroy or disable them quietly with a vehicle-mounted laser.

AUDs like Drone Dome also use one or more radar systems and one or more sensor systems for detecting UAV control signals or visual images that pattern recognition software can quickly identify. While commercial UAVs are more common, the basic design principles have not changed. AUDs are constantly evolving to better detect and disable or destroy unwanted UAVs. The best ones are recent models that tend to be very expensive and used only for extreme situations, like UAV defense in combat zones. Airports, especially the large ones are going to have to join the military in buying the latest AUDs, which at least lowers the AUD price and inspires even faster innovation and development.

Morocco needs Skylock to defend key installations, like the home of the royal family. The threat is coming from Algeria sponsored Polisario irregulars and Islamic terrorists. Morocco is already using Israeli UAVs to patrol areas where Polisario is operating. Morocco also purchased 36 American AH-64E helicopter gunships and hundreds of laser guided missiles to arm them. These are used against armed Polisario groups discovered in Morocco.

Algeria created Polisario in the 1960s and Polisario and so well-subsidized it, back when Algeria was a radical state, that Polisario created enough diehards to keep the violence against Morocco going and lots of people in the disputed Western Sahara region unhappy. This situation also provided recruits and sanctuary for al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals. Since the 1990s the UN has been trying to work out a final peace deal between Polisario and Morocco. During the 1990s Algeria said it cut off all support for Polisario. But that, and UN efforts to mediate the differences have just not worked. The contested area called Western Sahara is largely desert with a current population of less than 600,000. Logic would have it that the area is better off as a part of Morocco. But until the 1990w there were still thousands of people in Western Sahara plus refugees who would rather fight for independence than submit to Morocco.

Some resistance is tribal and cultural, with the Moroccans seen as another bunch of alien invaders. Western Sahara was administered until 1976 as a Spanish colony. Most Western Saharans have now made peace with Moroccan rule, especially since Morocco has been spending a billion dollars a year on infrastructure and other improvements and doing so for decades. Western Sahara is a much nicer place because of that. Polisario still has several thousand armed men based in the refugee camps and refuses to accept Moroccan rule of Western Sahara. Thinly populated border areas between Western Sahara and Algeria are often occupied by some Polisario gunmen, Polisario has become an outlaw organization with no real purpose. If the fighting breaks out again, Morocco could defeat Polisario, but Polisario still has a sanctuary in the Algerian and Mauritanian refugee camps. There Polisario discourages any talk of peacefully returning to Western Sahara, even though a growing number of the camp inmates are quietly doing that. The refugee camps have become police states run by Polisario and tolerated, until now, by Algeria. As more veteran Algerian Islamic terrorists are captured or surrender, the information they provide keeps pointing back to Polisario as a major source of support for AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and its lucrative smuggling (drugs, people, weapons) from the south into Algeria. Polisario was hoping to avoid a major confrontation with Algerian security forces over this, but that is becoming more difficult to do with their major supporters in the Algerian government gone.

 


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