Drone Nation is a collaborative project by Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper looking into the Israeli drone industry and the proliferation of remotely operated vehicles.
An Israeli soldier launches a small drone into the air during a demonstration in southern Israel, close to the border with Gaza.
The soldier is part of the Sky Riders, a special intelligence unit which operates the Skylark, a small drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), made by Israeli defense conglomerate Elbit Systems. Soldiers in Sky Rider units use the drone to provide intelligence by gathering video from the battlefield in real-time.
Unlike drone pilots in the Israel Air Force who fly much larger UAV’s and live miles away from where their drones operate, the Sky Riders, who serve in the artillery brigade, are based with other infantry soldiers and launch their drones from the field.
The Orbiter mini-drone inside the Aeronautics Defense Systems factory in Yavne, Israel. This highly autonomous UAV can locate and track moving targets while piloting itself within a patrol area. The Orbiter is flown by military forces in over 30 countries including Mexico, Ireland, and Poland.
The company unveiled a new version of the Orbiter at the 2015 Paris Air show that includes a small warhead - turning the system into a loitering munition, also known as a kamikaze or suicide drone. These types of UAVs are similar to guided missiles but can remain above a target longer and are recoverable if the strike is aborted.
The upgraded orbiter is designed for strikes against ground personnel and thin-skinned vehicles. Its two and a half kilogram warhead detonates above a target, showering an area 50 meters in diameter with tungsten shrapnel.
A small trailer used as a clubhouse by soldiers in the Sky Rider unit, inside an Israeli military base next to the Erez Crossing on the border with Gaza.
The Aeronautics Aerostar, a tactical UAV at the Aeronautics Defense Systems factory in Yavne, Israel. Tactical UAVs can fly longer and farther than smaller drones and are cheaper than the larger MALE and HALE (medium/high altitude long endurance) UAVs.
The Aerostar is similar in design to the first UAVs produced by the Israeli companies in the late 1970’s. Its light airframe and glider-like design allow it to fly for up to 12 hours, performing intelligence gathering missions as well as detecting and marking targets.
In 2006 the drone was used in flight-trails by the Israel Highway Police to test the system’s effectiveness monitoring traffic and identifying unlawful driving. The drone is flown by a handful of countries including Turkey, The Netherlands, Nigeria, and Angola.
Inside a hangar at Israeli Aerospace Industries’s (IAI) main facility, near Ben Gurion Airport, Israel. Founded in 1953, the state-owned company is the largest aerospace manufacturer in the country. IAI has produced fighter jets, missiles, and spacecraft for domestic and international clients and is the largest manufacturer of UAV systems in Israel.
This hangar is used as a showroom, exhibiting the many UAVs and related systems produced by the company. The small vehicle on the right is a scale-model of the Naval Rotary Unmanned Air Vehicle – a helicopter drone used for maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
The aerospace and defense industries in Israel share strong connections with the country’s military forces. Many engineers operated drone systems while serving in the military, which is mandatory for most Israelis.
Ground control stations - used to pilot large UAVs - built inside of camouflaged shipping containers at IAI’s main facility, near Ben Gurion Airport, Israel.
Drones are cheaper to build and easier to fly than manned aircraft and carry out missions without putting pilots’ lives at risk. The Israeli Air force flies more missions with UAVs than with manned aircraft.
A still from test footage of an infrared camera provided by Controp.
An employee of Aeronautics Defense Systems recovers an Orbiter 2 UAV during a demonstration for potential buyers, in Southern Israel, close to the border with Gaza.
According to a US congressional report on drone proliferation, the number of countries with UAV capabilities doubled between 2005 and 2012. This has proven a boon for UAV makers, who are the fastest growing sector of the aerospace industry. Worldwide sales of UAV technology for the next decade are projected to top off at more than $90 billion.
Israel has been the top global exporter of UAVs for decades, accounting for over 60% of international exports since 1985.
International sales make up most of the Israeli drone makers' business. The companies take advantage of financial assistance from the United States, favorable export laws, and sell their systems to dozens of countries all over the world.
An optical payload is pointed out of a window for testing purposes at the Controp factory outside of Peta Tikvah, Israel. Controp’s cameras can be found all over Israel, in use on a variety of air, sea, and land systems. The company sells it’s products to over a dozen countries around the globe.
Privacy concerns and the implications of widespread surveillance from unrestrained drone use raise far less concern within Israel than in the US or UK. Israeli drone makers say that the use of their systems is vital to maintaining security and there is little protest against their use from most Israelis.
An employee at the Aero Sol factory works with a mold for composite material used to make airframe components for UAVs, in Petah-Tikva, Israel.
An optical payload containing stabilized cameras, inside a crate at the Controp factory, near Petah Tikvah, Israel.
Controp is an Israeli company that produces electric-optical cameras and stabilized payload systems. It was founded by former employees of Israeli Areospace Industries and today is half owned by Aeronautics Defense Systems.
A thermal image displayed on a screen at a vendor’s booth at the 3rd annual Unmanned Vehicle Israel Defense conference (UVID), organized by Israel Defense Magazine and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Airport City, Israel.
Aeronautics Defense Systems employees assembling UAV airframe parts from composite materials inside the company’s factory in Yavne, Israel.
While Israeli drone makers keep exact sales figures secret, a defense report from 2013 found that the companies made $4.62 billion in export sales of UAV technology from 2005 to 2012.
Israel is one of the world's leading weapon and defense system exporters, with $5.66 Billion in reported earnings for 2014. According to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, approximately 10% of the population, some 150,000 Israeli households, depend on the military industry for economic support.
A disassembled drone with the German Airforce markings inside IAI’s UAV factory near Ben Gurion Airport, Israel.
Like other Israeli drone makers, IAI’s UAV division makes most of its sales to international clients.
A prototype of the Picador a VTOL (vertical take off and landing) UAV, sitting in a storage area inside the Aeronautics factory, in Yavne, Israel.
A man walks by a robot at the 2014 Unmanned Vehicle Israel Defense conference (UVID), in Airport City, Israel. The conference brings together dozens of Israeli companies that manufacture UAVs and related systems such as optical payloads and communication equipment. The conference is attended by hundreds of military personnel, engineers, businessmen and government representatives from Israel and abroad.
UAV makers are the fastest growing sector of the aerospace industry. Worldwide sales of the technology and its systems for the next decade are projected to double and total over $90 billion.
An Elbit Skylark mini-UAV flies over a field near the border with Gaza, during a demonstration in southern Israel. The drone, inaudible from the ground when flying at 100 meters and above, saw its first widespread use over Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, in 2014.
Israeli drone makers work closely with the military, using the conflict zones surrounding the country to test and develop their systems in real world operations. Many drones were tested during Operation Protective Edge in the skies above Gaza, on the ground, and in tunnels beneath the surface. When ready, these systems can be marketed to foreign clients as "combat proven," the highest standard of reliability.
This process has made the Israeli companies targets for anti-drone and BDS activists who say that Israeli drone makers turn profit from testing their products on Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.