Warplanes: New Israeli UAV Gets First Combat Experience in Caucasus

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June 1, 2016: In April a new Israeli UAV, Harop, was used in combat for the first time. Harop is not only small but also something of a hybrid design that can either be a recoverable UAV or a cruise missile. Essentially resembling a small aircraft with a cranked delta wing and rear two bladed propeller, the Harop is actually a UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) controlled by a remote operator and capable of flying more than 1,000 kilometers or loitering for up to 6 hours while carrying a 23 kilogram (51 pound) high explosive warhead. It can be launched either from an aircraft, or from a sealed container that can be mounted on land vehicles and ships.

Developed in 2005 from the earlier Harpy UCAV, the Harop improves on the original design by offering a longer nose, outer wing extensions and a canard foreplane. Harop is 2.5 meters (8 feet, 2 inches) long, has a 3 meter (9 feet, 10 inches) wingspan and weighs 135 kg (298 pounds), Top speed is 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour.

The first combat use of Harop did not involve Israeli troops. It occurred in the Caucasus during a a skirmish between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the long contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. Azerbaijan is one of five current users of this Harop, the others being India, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Israel. The Harop was used against a bus carrying Armenian soldiers to the frontline, resulting in destruction of the bus and killing at least seven of the passengers.

Unlike the autonomous Harpy, which is primarily geared toward SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense), the Harop has two modes of guidance, which makes it much more versatile. In autonomous mode, it is homing in on radio emissions with its anti-radar homing system, much like classic anti-radiation missiles. Unlike the Harpy, it can also be remotely controlled, allowing its operator to spot and select static or moving targets with the drone’s electro-optical (TV) or FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) camera. Using the operator mode, targets can be hit regardless of whether they emit signals or not. This line of sight capability can be used at ranges up to 150 kilometers from nearest control signal relay.

One major advantage Harop has over classic cruise or anti radar missiles is that both in autonomous and manual control modes, if a target is not found, or cannot be attacked due to collateral damage risk or other reasons, the drone can return to base, land, and be used again in the future.

Thanks to its stealthy shape, small size, and little engine, Harop is extremely hard to detect both by radars and infrared cameras, which is particularly useful for its anti-radar role, as it can get close to the radar without getting detected, so that the radar cannot be shut down and hidden to avoid destruction. Of course this benefit also applies for any mission that involves breaking through air defenses, as thanks to its stealthy characteristics Harop may be detected too late to be shot down before it crashes into a high value target, while for the same reason radar and infrared guided anti air missiles might have trouble locking onto it. --Adam Szczepanik

 


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