Loitering munitions, aka LMs, have been evolving in Israel since the mid-1970s, following the Yom Kippur War, when Israel’s defense establishment encouraged industry research and development in unmanned and autonomous capabilities to defeat surface-to-air threats and interdict large armored formations before they came to contact.

By the mid-1980s, two types of LM had been developed in Israel: a small air-launched cruise missile called Delilah was developed by Israel Military Industries (IMI), and a ground-launched drone known as Harpy was developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

The Harpy acts as a “suicide drone” that performs an autonomous counter-radar attack. The weapon was recently modernized, to offer extended mission endurance and meet the latest threats. Customers that fielded the Harpy realized the benefits of “man in the loop” control of the weapon: hence a version called Harop evolved as a loitering platform, powerful enough to carry a sophisticated multisensory electro-optical (EO) payload, a large warhead, a data link and enough fuel for a six-hour mission.

Sharing a common platform with the Harpy, the Harop delivers imagery intelligence in real time over a two-way data link. Once a target is detected by the operator, from distances hundreds of kilometers away, the Harop is commanded to attack, dives in on the designated target and activates its large warhead.

In recent years, the number and variety of loitering weapons have increased. Elbit Systems, for example, recently unveiled the SkyStriker, a ground-launched UAV equipped with a small EO payload and a relatively large warhead, big enough to defeat a tank.

Uvision, Israel’s exclusive LM specialist, offers a full range of LMs, from man-portable mini-drones to big platforms that can carry heavy payloads for hours, over hundreds of kilometers. Unlike its competitors, Uvision prefers to team with big international companies, such as Raytheon and Thales, to market its Hero line of LMs in strategic markets.

IAI has also expanded its offerings, introducing the Green Dragon, a small, electrically powered loitering weapon that launches from canisters packed on vehicles or boats. When airborne, the weapon is controlled from a tablet computer on the surveillance part of the loitering mission, as well as on the attack phase. The operator can designate and attack targets as they appear on the tablet screen, or abort the attack any time before impact, through a built-in “abort and circle” capability, designed to prevent collateral damage or mistaken targeting.