Alon Tamir, senior business development and marketing manager at IAI’s MBT Missiles division, tells FlightGlobal that the new product builds on its experience with the lightweight, man-portable Rotem L. This includes the ability for the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle to touch down mid-mission and perform a so-called perching, or ambush operation.
Such a technique can extend total mission time from loitering for 1h to being on call for as much as 24h, Tamir says. “We can fly for 20km [10.8nm], land and wait for the enemy to arrive,” he explains. The system has a communication link range of twice this distance.
Once called back into action, the UAV “can fly and hover at a low-altitude profile to build situational awareness and execute an attack”, IAI says.
“As a VTOL platform, it can be launched and landed between trees, structures, and other types of harsh terrain,” the company notes.
Tamir notes that the Rotem Alpha uses the same tablet-based ground control unit as the smaller Rotem L quadcopter, which is already in use with multiple nations, including NATO nations.
“Rotem Alpha’s sensor suite autonomously detects and locates hostile enemy fires, like artillery, rockets, and missile launchers, and then investigates and engages a direct attack using its electro-optical day and night seeker,” IAI says.
The design also has potential application for use in maritime operations, the company says, including being launched from a small surface vessel.
There’s more at the link.
Here’s an IAI publicity video about Rotem Alpha.
Several points intrigue me.
- The drone can be carried in a backpack, as well as on a vehicle or small boat. This makes it widely available on a battlefield – it doesn’t have to be launched from a rear area after receiving a request from the “sharp end”.
- Small units such as platoons or even squads can now launch their own smart weapons – not just reconnaissance drones – on demand. That gives them tremendous tactical flexibility.
- It can “perch” in a tree or among some rocks for an extended period, waiting for targets to appear. That means attacking forces can’t be sure whether there’s a threat ahead or not. If it’s not flying, the drone is much harder to detect.
- As well as being directed by an operator from a distance, the drone has its own sensors, and can find its own targets if necessary. That means, even if its operator is killed or his control tablet is damaged, the drone can act autonomously (if so instructed beforehand) to find and kill anything moving in its area. It won’t help an attacker to take out the operator.
Of course, the next step will be to equip attacking troops with such weapons as well. That won’t be long in coming – then we’ll be at a tactical stalemate once more. The days when an advanced weapon would confer an advantage lasting years are over, I suspect – it’s too easy to copy such technology.