May 30, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

IDF tech innovation redefines the war in Gaza

The battlefield requires constant monitoring, and learning about the enemy - two elements that Israel's technology excels at.
May 30, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

IDF tech innovation redefines the war in Gaza

The battlefield requires constant monitoring, and learning about the enemy - two elements that Israel's technology excels at.

Earlier this week it was reported the IDF is using new unmanned M113 APCs in Gaza. The tracked vehicles are old, dating from the 1960s, but they have been re-purposed to be used without people. “Unmanned” is now the name of the game in future warfare.

Usually these types of systems are called drones, especially when they fly. In contrast to the old M113s, that got a new lease on life through integrating some tech on them, there are also a plethora of drones that are redefining how the IDF is changing in this war.

The Israel defense forces have also created a number of new drone units in the last years. For instance in April the IDF said it had created a new squadron for the Hermes 900 drones from Elbit . Squadron 147 was supplied with the large drones and is based on Palmachim, the base on the coast of Israel that is also home to the Hermes 450 ‘Zik’ squadron.

State of the art

The Hermes 900 is a large advanced drone that can fly at medium and high altitudes for a long period of time and conduct surveillance over a large area. A second Hermes 900 squadron, the 166th, already exists at Palmachim.

The IDF also re-opened the 144th squadron as a drone unit flying the Spark UAV, which is a drone that is between a small and medium-sized platform and was developed by Aeronautics.

The war has also seen an increased use of different types of drones and loitering munitions. Israel was already a pioneer in the use of drones and artificial intelligence, but this war has enabled new technologies to be added together to increase the use of multiple layers of drones on the battlefield. What that means is using larger drones that have strike capabilities such as the Hermes 450, with smaller drones such as the Skylark that are used to help artillery spotters.

In addition, ground forces have access to smaller drones. There are so many more drones being used the IDF has created several new units for them over the last year. Units such as the IDF’s Ghost Unit, which uses new technology, us smaller drones. In addition some units have acquired quadcopter drones, similar to commercially available types, for use.

The IDF also developed a weapon called the Maoz or Spike Firefly, which is a loitering munition. It acts like a drone, with a propeller on top of a kind of long tube. It can then lift off and the operator can decide to strike a target with it. Perfect for fighting in an urban environment, it gives the possibility to strike enemies who might be hiding behind walls or alleys. Spike FireFly is made by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

The use of new drone technology and also flooding the zone with numerous types of drones at all levels of combat, provide the troops with a lot more security on the battlefield. What this means is that there are often multiple layers of drones over Gaza and the drones can provide the IDF with all the layers of resources it needs.

What this means is that there are drones that can help artillery direct their fire to be more precise, and there are drones that can keep overwatch of an infantry or tank unit that is carrying out a maneuver in an urban area, and there are drones that can be used at the tactical level by the units in the urban area, so they can see around corners or look inside buildings. When necessary, some types of drones can also carry out strikes on enemies.

In the end of the day, the battle against the enemy in Gaza is the same battle that has gone on for decades against enemies in Gaza. The enemy changes a bit, they use tunnels, they have access to more RPGs and anti-tank missiles, and they pop out of buildings dressed as civilians to take shots at the IDF.

Where drones can help is the drones can follow the threat as it weaves its way between buildings or it can help distinguish between what is a threat and who are civilians.

In a complex battlespace like Gaza this is important. It also helps connect ground forces with the air force and also with other fire support units, such as the navy or artillery.

In the old days the ability of a ground force, such as a battalion or company of tanks and a company of infantry to be able to call in fire support would take time. Now everything is about being faster, more precise and efficient and saving lives.

Drones help close the loop and provide the real time information with the latest most advanced sensors. These types of sensors can track movement or use artificial intelligence to help distinguish enemies. In Gaza troops have to be able to respond quickly, with enemies using RPGs and then running away.

The battlefield requires constant monitoring and Israel’s new technology is key to that.

There are other types of technology that have been in the spotlight in the war. The IDF’s new Sa’ar 6 corvettes were used in combat for the first time during the war. The new ships, of which there are four, use a new type of radar and also an improved 76mm gun.

In addition the new precision mortar system, the Iron Sting, was also used for the first time. The precision mortar is a 120mm mortar and it can be mounted on a Humvee or an M113 or other platforms. The mortar is slightly longer than a traditional mortar and it has fins that enable it to precisely strike a target. It weighs 17 kilograms with a range of around 6 miles. The precision mortar is made by Israel’s Elbit Systems.

Israel’s air defenses have also been revolutionized through this war. The Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 systems, which defend against ballistic missiles, had their first interceptions. These have been key to defending Eilat from Houthi missile threats and also key to defending against the Iranian ballistic missile threat on April 13-14.

The Arrow is made by Israel Aerospace Industries, which joint work to develop it carried out between Israel and the US over the last decades. The naval version of Iron Dome was, called C-Dome, was also used for the first time in this war in the Red Sea off the coast of Eilat. It was used to take out a drone threat. The David’s Sling system has been used frequently and received a Defense Prize for its success.

Another system that came into use during the war were new shoulder-launched missiles. Dubbed the Holit and Yated, after two Israeli communities near the Gaza border, the missiles are larger than other shoulder-launched missiles the IDF has used over the years.

The missiles were acquired from the US. In addition the IDF also introduced an improved version of the Negev machine gun, new night vision goggles and also the SmartShooter sight for rifles to help take down drones.

All the new technology is designed to make fighting more precise and provide operators with more information. It also expands the realms the IDF operates in, including a new space directorate and improving the evacuation time of wounded by helicopter.

This is only the beginning of the innovations from the current war in Gaza. Almost eight months of war have brought a myriad of new tech to the front, and more systems, from rocket launchers to artillery, will continue to be rolled out. 

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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