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The Israeli UAV ‘worth 10 different drones’ in intel work

IAF’s Spark and the squadron re-established to operate it herald a revolution in air-ground cooperation.

The Israel Air Force's new Spark drone. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
The Israel Air Force's new Spark drone. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

The Israel Defense Forces’ announcement on Monday of the receipt of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) dubbed “Spark” marks a new era for Israeli military drones.

The Spark is specifically designed to enhance air-ground combat coordination.

It was developed as part of the Israel Air Force’s Storm Clouds program, which aims to provide precise intelligence to air and ground units and enable targets to be quickly struck upon their detection.

The Spark will be operated by the IAF’s 144th Squadron, which was re-established in 2022 at Hatzor Air Force Base in southern Israel specifically for this mission, after being disbanded in 2005.

Since its founding in 1972, the 144th Squadron has had a long and distinguished history of service, beginning with its participation in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, during which it downed more than 40 enemy aircraft.

The squadron once flew the Nesher, the first Israel-made fighter jet, and the Kfir, both made by Israel Aerospace Industries and based on French fighter jets of the time. It went on to fly F-16s until being disbanded in 2005.

Eighteen years later, the squadron will now be operating the Spark UAV, which the IAF describes as a fifth-generation of drone technology.

In March this year, the IAF’s official website described the UAV as being “worth 10 different UAVs in its intelligence capabilities.”

The website ran an interview with Lt. Col. A. (full name withheld), the commander of the 144th Squadron, who stated intriguingly that drone operators in the IAF “will not necessarily be those who use” this UAV.

This could be a reference to an ability to send the drone to an area of operations and transfer control of it to ground units.

“The solution decided upon is to appoint, in every division that will operate with us, a manager who will be responsible for this,” Lt. Col. A. said at the time.

A Spark simulator was also introduced in recent months for training purposes.

The Spark’s capacity to be operated in a manner that is both flexible and adaptable is one of the many innovative features of this mysterious product.

By decentralizing control of the drone, ground forces can make real-time battlefield decisions and likely shorten the time it takes to act against enemy targets.

It seems like the Spark is designed to take air-ground coordination a step further, by providing ground units with a new level of advanced UAV capabilities and access to the latest high-quality aerial intelligence in their sector, free of delays.

The introduction of the Spark into the IAF’s squadrons of UAVs is not only an improvement in terms of hardware, it represents a change in thinking.

This is a reflection of a more comprehensive approach, according to which Israel is not just making investments in cutting-edge technology but also reconsidering its operating techniques, with a major focus on coordinated multi-branch combat.

“The certain thing that will happen,” Lt. Col. A. told the IAF’s website, “is that the way in which we consume intelligence will change substantially. There aren’t always opportunities [like this] to lead a trailblazing maneuver. This is an incredible challenge and a great privilege that we received, and we will work hard so that it turns out in the best manner. We are already expecting sparks to light up the skies.”

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