Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel’s air force

Did Israel Just Acquire a New Bombing Capability?

You don’t have to be Carl von Clausewitz to understand this significance of this:

Israel’s air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

Note, first, that the 20-hour flight figure is almost certainly a dramatic understatement. Other reports put that figure at 36 hours, and the real number is probably higher still.

The Israeli Air Force has not had a long-range bombing capacity. But this new drone not only can easily reach Iran but also can loiter over the country for hours with a full payload. It has always been said that there are two great obstacles to an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program: 1) the IAF’s lack of long-range bombing capability; and 2) the difficulty of destroying equipment that is dispersed across the country in underground bunkers. The Israelis have shown a flair for timing in unveiling a weapon that would appear to significantly solve the first problem.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the unveiling of this new UAV comes only a few days after Russia announced its intention, after many delays, to begin sending the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Presumably the new variant of the Heron would be involved in countering the SAM threat, and could perform limited bombing duties as well. Its payload is small in comparison to even an F-15.

You don’t have to be Carl von Clausewitz to understand this significance of this:

Israel’s air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

Note, first, that the 20-hour flight figure is almost certainly a dramatic understatement. Other reports put that figure at 36 hours, and the real number is probably higher still.

The Israeli Air Force has not had a long-range bombing capacity. But this new drone not only can easily reach Iran but also can loiter over the country for hours with a full payload. It has always been said that there are two great obstacles to an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program: 1) the IAF’s lack of long-range bombing capability; and 2) the difficulty of destroying equipment that is dispersed across the country in underground bunkers. The Israelis have shown a flair for timing in unveiling a weapon that would appear to significantly solve the first problem.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the unveiling of this new UAV comes only a few days after Russia announced its intention, after many delays, to begin sending the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Presumably the new variant of the Heron would be involved in countering the SAM threat, and could perform limited bombing duties as well. Its payload is small in comparison to even an F-15.

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