Warplanes: November 10, 2004

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The Lebanese based terrorist group Hizbollah took credit for a small UAV that came down Israelis Mediterranean coast on November 7th, flew over an Israeli town for 15 minutes and then flew back into Lebanon. Hizbollah called their UAV "Mirsad 1", but it was probably an Iranian Ababil. The Iranians have been developing UAVs for nearly a decade. Their Ababil is a 183 pound UAV with a ten foot wing span, a payload of about 80 pounds, a cruising speed of 290 kilometers an hour and an endurance of 90 minutes. The Ababil is known to operate as far as 120 kilometers from its ground controller. but it also has a guidance system that allows it to fly a pre-programmed route and then return to the control by its ground controllers for a landing (which is by parachute). The Ababil can carry a variety of day and night still and video cameras. There are many inexpensive and very capable cameras available on the open market, as is the equipment needed to transmit video and pictures back to the ground. 

The Israeli air defense organization was embarrassed by this undetected UAV flight. In 1987, a Hizbollah commando flew undetected into northern Israel using an ultralight vehicle (somewhat larger than the Ababil), landed near a military camp, and killed six soldiers  before he was killed. This led to the air defense system in northern Israel being upgraded to prevent that sort of thing happening again. Since then, the Israelis have detected other ultralights and small aircraft trying to enter Israel, and have stopped them. But during the November 7th flight, the UAV moved at an altitude of under 300 feet, and was the smallest aircraft the Israelis have had to deal with so far. Nevertheless, the Israeli air defenses were apparently supposed to be capable of spotting something like an Ababil UAV. 

What the Israelis fear most is low flying Ababils coming south carrying a load of nerve gas, or even just explosives. Using GPS guidance, such a UAV could hit targets very accurately. Moreover, theres nothing exotic about UAV technology, at least for something like the Ababil. It was no surprise that Iran began using home made UAVs in the late 1990s. After all, they had received some UAVs from the United States in the 1970s (Firebee target drones.) The Israelis immediately tagged Iran as the supplier of the Hizbollah drone, because Iran has long supplied that terrorist organization with cash, weapons and equipment for decades. 

 


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