… by Ian Greenhalgh
Israeli-made ‘suicide’ drones are being used in Nagorno-Karabakh by the Azerbaijani forces, according to a report from Armenia’s Defence Ministry.
This marks a disturbing new development in warfare – autonomous killer robots with a Kamikaze mindset. Shades of Terminator’s Skynet and it’s flying killer robots.
Video showing the drone has appeared online to support the claim, as the Washington Post reports:
Video of what appears to be an Israeli-made suicide drone flying over the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh, where Azerbaijan and Armenia have clashed in recent days, surfaced Tuesday, in what could be one of the first instances of such a weapon being used in combat.
The drone, based on its distinct wing shape and nose, looks like an Israeli Aerospace Industries Harop loitering munition. Unlike, for instance, a Predator drone armed with a Hellfire missile, the Harop itself is the munition and destroys a target by ramming into it.
According to the manufacturer’s website, the Harop can be remotely piloted or it can find targets autonomously based on radar or radio wave emissions. These two targeting methods are ideal for attacking enemy air defenses, as the smaller drone can evade weapons and detection systems designed to target much larger aircraft. The Harop is the second iteration of the Harpy drone. Unlike the Harop, the Harpy cannot be remotely piloted and it is autonomous after it is launched.
In this instance, the Harop apparently targeted a bus full of “Armenian volunteers,” killing seven, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, a spokesman for Armenia’s Defense Ministry, said in an interview with Ria Novosti, a Russian state-run media agency. Hovhannisyan also posted about the Harop on his Facebook page, according to local media reports, indicating that it was piloted by Azerbaijani forces.
The Harop sighting came during heavy fighting across the line of contact separating the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. In 1991, a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out over the disputed territory. It resulted in the establishment of Nagorno-Karabakh as a quasi-independent Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan’s borders after a ceasefire was declared in 1994.
It is unclear how many countries use the Harop, although reports indicate that the drone has been sold to India and Azerbaijan. In a news release in June, Israeli Aerospace Industries said that “hundreds of [Harop] systems have been sold to different customers” and that the drone had “considerable sales potential.”
In recent months, Israeli surveillance drones have been spotted in Ukraine and Syria.
Stills from the video (above) appear to show the distinctive shape of the IAI Harop drone (left).
Details of this new kamikaze flying robot make for chilling reading:
Harop is now one of the world’s most sophisticated and accurate UAV’s. With an ability to remain airborne for hours, Harop has the capability of diving and crashing into a precise target, much like a conventional missile. The UAV can receive instructions from as far as 1,000 kilometers.
Contained within the nose of the Harop is 10 kilograms of explosives. The explosives can either be detonated at impact or can be launched from various platforms, such as a ship or vehicle, to enhance its range.
Immediately after launch, the Harop’s wings unfold. Once flight begins, it is impossible to cancel the Harop’s mission. Operators of the UAV have the ability to lock on to targets that are both mobile and static.
Officials at IAI claim that production to final delivery takes a mere two weeks. Already numerous foreign militaries have reported using Harop successfully in several operations.
According to IAI, hundreds of units have already been sold. Many Harop’s were specially outfitted with special cameras capable of seeing through severe weather and the dark.
The IAI factory, located in central Israel, recently began production on an even more advanced version of Harop. The next generation model will include a launch vehicle, thereby increasing operational flexibility and making it easier to mask the missile as an airplane.
In a demonstration, Harop’s flexibility was put to the test when it was able to carry out a precise strike on a building similar to those used by Hezbollah in southern Israel to hide its operational headquarters. In a second demonstration, the UAV also carried out a direct strike on a target on a boat out at sea.
Today, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel herself was interested in equipping it’s own military with these ‘suicide’ drones:
The executive says such drones, which carry grenades, have been sold to foreign armies but would not specify which.
The Israel Defense Forces is interested in purchasing suicide drones, an Israel Aerospace Industry executive has said.
The aircraft in question, developed by IAI, is a drone capable of carrying grenades or a camera that can be used by army units at the tactical level. The cost of the IAI product, which has been named Rotem, a Hebrew acronym for “attack and suicide drone,” can run tens of thousands of dollars. A military source has confirmed the IDF is interested in purchasing such aircraft but noted that no such acquisition is currently planned.
The IAI executive said such drones have been sold to foreign armies but would not specify which.
The aircraft itself can hover over a spot designated by soldiers on tablet computers and under their command attack a target with grenades. A soldier can carry up to two such drones on his back.
The drone can also carry cameras which soldiers can use to designate an automatic flight path. The aircraft can then be returned by pressing a “back” button.
IAI presented several kamikaze aircraft to reporters during a tour on Sunday. Among the models presented were the Harpy and the Harop, both a cross between an aircraft and missile.
“The aircraft sees its target, homes in on it and also destroys it,” the executive said. He refused to comment on recent reports that the Azeri army made use of the Harop to attack an Armenian convoy during fighting in the separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Harop is an unmanned kamikaze aircraft that various reports say is in use in India, Israel and Azerbaijan. It can carry 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of explosives and can hover in the air for up to seven hours. If the aircraft has not attacked a target, it can land on a net and be used in the future. Hundreds of Harop and older Harpy models have been sold around the world, the executive said.
In other developments, IAI expressed criticism over the lack of a national multi-year space program, particularly as it relates to communications satellites. “There is a continuing crisis in the Israeli space industry,” IAI CEO Joseph Weiss said. Once the Amos 6 satellite, which is expected to go into space in July, is launched, there is no plan to develop additional communications satellites, he said. “The State of Israel isn’t looking at what is happening around it. It is investing small sums in space compared to what is happening around the world, and Israel is far from where it needs to be. We are marching in place,” he said.