The Defense Ministry’s announcement on Sunday of major progress in the preparation of the Oron intelligence-gathering aircraft for operational use marks a dramatic development in Israel’s military capabilities.
The most advanced type system of its kind, the Oron’s onboard technology, which is fueled by artificial intelligence, can gather intelligence on thousands of enemy targets within seconds and spanning thousands of kilometers.
No other capability like this exists in the world, and it would not be an exaggeration to describe the Oron as a groundbreaking intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance weapon.
As it heads toward final delivery to the Israel Air Force, the Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development, in collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), announced on Sunday that the plane’s intelligence systems are ready for use, and that test flights are now underway.
All of those involved in the project held a celebratory ceremony in recent days to mark the integration of onboard intelligence systems.
IAI’s ELTA Systems group has been working with the IAF, the IDF Intelligence Corps and the Israel Navy to install revolutionary sensors and systems that encompass the C4i attributes and processes, meaning command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence.
The aircraft will be operated by the air force’s 122nd “Nachshon” Squadron.
The Oron first arrived at the IAF’s Nevatim Air Base, southeast of Beersheva, in April 2021. The aircraft is a modified Gulfstream G550 business jet, as are the Shavit signals intelligence planes and the Eitam airborne early warning and control aircraft, which also fly as part of the 122nd Squadron.
IAI-ELTA produced the plane’s radar, as well as signals intelligence sensors and data processing systems.
“We created a machine that knows how to produce and expose thousands of targets in seconds,” Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, head of military research and development at the Directorate of Defense Research and Development, said when the aircraft first arrived at Nevatim two years ago. “It absorbs thousands of kilometers of territory at a precision designed for attack,” he added.
The IAF says the Oron will also boost its ability to operate in what it calls “second and third-tier countries,” meaning states that are two and three borders away, a category that, of course, includes Iran.
The Oron incorporates artificial intelligence to autonomously and automatically process vast amounts of radar and signals intelligence data—and it can do all of that in seconds.
That feature alone makes Israel the only country on Earth with this kind of capability.
Other states are eying the possibility of purchasing export versions of the aircraft.
Israel can only afford one Oron aircraft for now, but the IAF will certainly want to buy more in time.
When combined with the Boeing-made KC-46 refuelers (Israel is due to receive four of them) greatly boosting the IAF’s long-range strike capabilities, this integration of mass intelligence and firepower should create new strategic capabilities.
The Oron’s arrival not only strengthens intelligence on enemy activities throughout the Middle East, it also does so in near and far arenas.
Ultimately, the Oron aircraft’s impact on Israel’s air strategy will be felt for years to come, solidifying Israel’s intelligence superiority, which is a necessary condition for being able to strike evasive enemy targets.