The IDF is about to receive what is considered the world's best unmanned aircraft – the Eitan.
On Sunday, the Air Force will be receiving the Israeli-made drone, which had already been tested on several occasions, including during operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.
For the time being, Air Force officials only have praise for the new aircraft.
"The Eitan can stay in the air for more than 20 hours; it can carry very large cargo and fly very far, much further than any other unmanned drone in Israel," said Air Force Lt. Col. A. "Only few aircraft in the world approach such capabilities."
More than 20 hours in the air (Photo: Avi Moalem)
The Eitan is physically larger than any other drone and can fly at higher altitudes. It can also carry more weight – several hundred kilos, compared to the 250-kilogram maximum currently carried by Israel's most advanced drone.
In addition, the new drone is equipped with more advanced technological systems than its predecessors. Until recently, these systems were tested by the Israel Aircraft Industry, yet as of Sunday Air Force personnel will be taking over.
The Air Force's drone fleet has experienced a leap in recent years, and has been taking over increasingly more missions traditionally performed by manned aircraft – especially in the areas of intelligence gathering, escorting and protecting forces, and creating the Air Force's "target bank."
In 2004, unmanned drones accumulated 16,600 flight hours, yet in 2009 the total stood at 36,548 hours.
The Eitan's role would be to operate in the highest altitudes, along with other aircraft flying at lower altitudes. The new drone will be providing an effective means at all theaters, with an emphasis on distant ones – including Iran.
"The Eitan gives us very broad intelligence capabilities," Lt. Col. A. said. "It is the world's most advanced unmanned aircraft and it was especially adapted to missions which the Air Force needs."
However, the high quality comes with a price, a senior Air Force official says.
"This aircraft has become much more expensive compared to its predecessors," he said. "For that reason, we prepared a suitable 'protective vest' for it, so that it can cope with threats."
If all goes well, a new Eitan squadron will be officially inaugurated within a year. However, the Air Force doesn't plan to wait that long to start using the aircraft operationally.
"It will be involved in any activity where it's needed," the senior source said. "There is no reason why the world's best unmanned drone won't take part in any confrontation, even if it takes place before the squadron's formation."