by JASON REICH
Major General Ido Nehushtan officially welcomed the Israeli air force’s newest drone aircraft, the Eitan, to Squadron 210 by plastering a large Star of David decal onto its side. Speaking to the assembled crowd of Israel Aircraft Industries personnel and their families, General Nehushtan praised their “years of hard work and dedication” and for “protecting the state of Israel” from its most serious threats.
The unspoken message from this event is, of course, another Israeli salvo against Iran and that country’s nuclear program. Throughout the display hall, awesomely bad videos of Iranian missile tests played to the soundtrack of the movie The Rock. For the Iranians who are undoubtedly following the media covering closely, all of the drone operators and defense officials I spoke to stressed the aircraft’s “extended range” and “large and versatile payload.”
What makes this drone unique is its size. Its 86-foot wingspan dwarfed the smaller drones parked nearby. Lieutenant Colonel E, former commander of a drone squadron and today responsible for the IAF’s drone fleet, told me that the Eitan “can do things no other aircraft can do.” When I asked whether he was referring to the Eitan’s sophisticated sensor suite or something else, he replied, “It flies very high, very far, and can carry a very, very large payload.”
The IDF refuses to comment on whether or not their drones can carry offensive payload, in a similar vein to Israel’s strategic nuclear ambiguity. Thus, the Colonel E’s comments seem to hint at, but not admit to, what many have speculated for a while: Israel possesses a “killer drone” capability just as robust, if not more-so, than the U.S. military’s Predators and Reapers.
In the Eitan, the IDF has a long-range and versatile new drone to boost its already formidable unmanned arsenal. When asked if this new drone is a “game changer” for Israel vis-a-vis Iran, Colonel E replied, “I wouldn’t go that far, but I think this will definitely get their attention.”
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