They have no eyes, but they are always watching, no brains but always learning – Israel’s autonomous drones that patrol gas fields far larger than the country itself.
“Basically, it’s a fully autonomous platform, which means we don’t have to fly it, it flies by itself,” Guy Gerasy, the UAV operational support leader at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), told i24NEWS. “The operator just monitors the platform, but it’s flying by itself and collecting the data by itself.”
A triumph of technological engineering: The observer drone is integrated with artificial intelligence, and its advanced pattern recognition knows what suspicious activity looks like. It misses nothing, and while it isn’t human, it does report to a human team.
“Today, the system takes all the vast amounts of targets in the area – it can be 100, 1,000, it doesn’t matter, it’s a machine,” Greasy continued.
“It can give you an alert on a specific target, that this is the risky target that you need to investigate. So, it saves a lot of time, a lot of manpower.”
The inhuman observers fill a critical need in Israel, patrolling thousands of square miles of the sea with very limited naval assets or personnel to do it with – along with a multitude of growing threats to Israeli energy developments.
“Let’s start from the maritime and naval arena of Israel. It was always an important area and asset for Israel’s security and Israel’s resources, and we had to secure it for many years regarding challenges and threats that we have from the sea,” said Oren Guter of IAI’s marketing and business development for naval programs.
Israel has become a natural gas exporter over the last decade – natural resources worth tens of billions of dollars – and that infrastructure and wealth is a set of targets for Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza. Just last July, Israel shot down drones sent from Lebanon headed toward a rig in the Karish gas field.
“With the size of 200 miles from the coastline, actually you need over-the-horizon capabilities, and the only way to do it is with aircraft,” Guter explained to i24NEWS.
“With our pioneering autonomous capabilities, we have this powerful UAV that enables us to be everywhere in the arena and give us a clear picture for very long distances, over the horizon.”
Israel has spent the last two years lifting the veil of secrecy on the drones that make up the backbone of its current defense strategy, and IAI’s Heron drone with its StarLight AI is just the tip of the iceberg.