By Yonah Jeremy Bob
Israel is extremely unprepared to address the multiple threats presented by drones, either from cross-border terrorism or from unregulated and dangerous domestic use, Israel’s state comptroller reported. Regarding cross-border terrorism-style drone threats, Joseph Shapira said that the IDF “has not developed a complete response” and “needs to immediately carry out more preparatory work” to address the issue.
Shapira also wrote that “gaps exist in regulating drone use” domestically and that his report is highlighting those gaps “in order to improve the response to the threat and to reduce the danger” posed by that threat.
According to estimates from the Civil Aviation Authority, by the end of 2017 there will be a staggering 20,000 drones being operated domestically for a variety of business and recreational use. That number is expected to grow to many tens of thousands in only a few years. Globally, around one million drones are bought per year.
Drone use has expanded at a stunning rate as drones have become cheaper, easier to use, and more widely available in local stores.
The comptroller jumped on this issue quickly, having noted that the state often lags behind in addressing developing threats stimulated by new technologies and concepts—such as its slow response to the Hamas tunnel threat.
The report covers the period from September 2016 to September 2017.
It noted that some of its sections have been kept secret by the Knesset State Control subcommittee on classified materials, but that there was more than sufficient unclassified material in the report to make it clear to the public what the overriding issues were.
It appeared that the IDF’s current and experimental responses to defending against drones were part of the censored draft, or at least are not mentioned in the public draft—even as the IDF is criticized for not being ready.
Two Israeli defense-industry businesses have developed anti-drone measures since 2016, mostly using jamming technologies to disrupt enemy drones’ ability to continue receiving instructions from their operators.
In November 2016, Elbit unveiled its Redrone system for defending against some enemy drones. Elbit has said that the new system is designed to identify, track, and jam unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that enter restricted and sensitive airspace.
In April 2016 and June 2017, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems announced its development of a Drone Dome system. The system uses a directed-energy and hard-kill intercept capability to detect and neutralize UAVs used by terrorists to perform aerial attacks, collect intelligence, and other intimidating activities. But some of these systems have known holes and others are still relatively untested.
Israel has also used fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles as critical aspects of the drone-fighting picture. On Saturday, an IDF patriot missile intercepted a drone that approached the Golan Heights border from Syria, believed to have been gathering intelligence for the Assad regime.
However, in other instances, drones have successfully penetrated Israeli territory from Gaza and Lebanon, and the IDF’s Patriot missiles missed. It is also unclear how well the above solutions would fair if dealing with a combination of simultaneous multiple rocket and drone attacks.
On a related issue, Shapira slammed the National Security Council, the IDF, and the police force for a failure to delineate responsibility for the drone threat between them, despite two and a half years of work on the issue. He said, “The security cabinet must review this report and act without delay to fix the deficiencies noted in it.”
Though deputy chiefs of the IDF and the police and multiple NSC chiefs have all agreed that the drone issue is a major and escalating threat, none of them have succeeded at bridging the gap between the IDF and the police over who must face down the drone issue.
The report said that both the IDF and the police agree that the IDF is responsible for cross-border drone terror. But whereas the IDF is adamant that the police are responsible for the domestic drone threat, especially drones which disrupt public order but are not aimed at using violence, the police say they are not equipped and that the IDF must handle all drone-related issues.
From an economic perspective, the report said it was critical for the IDF to engage the Shin Bet and the police as part of its preparations so that all agencies can advance their readiness. In this way, the state would not be funding parallel overlapping efforts.
On the domestic threat side, the report said that current aviation laws stemming from a 2011 law do not comprehensively address the problem, leading to a 70% jump in dangerous accidents caused by drones from 14 in 2015 to 24 in 2016.
According to the report, the fines the Civil Aviation Authority, which is part of the Transportation Ministry, can impose on persons using drones on an unregulated basis or for causing accidents or danger are limited.
It said that new legislation must be passed to authorize the authority to impose much larger fines to deter unregulated and irresponsible use of drones. In addition, the report said that there are only two members of the authority assigned to oversight of drones and that even they are not working full-time.
The report noted that the authority responded to criticism of the small number of inspectors, saying that even 100 inspectors could not possibly effectively oversee the massive number of drones in the country. Shapira said that the Transportation Ministry must devise a more effective mechanism for oversight, though he did not offer suggestions. (JPost)