Over the past year, quadcopters that have so far only seen civilian use have become a popular tool in the IDF. They're being used in almost every possible corps and for a variety of tasks.
Among these tasks are locating suspects, pursuing terrorists or thwarting infiltration attemps. In addition, the little aircraft is being used in operational duty on all fronts, in training exercises and in search and rescue missions.
"The main advantage of quadcopters is their availability. Nowadays, even in ongoing incidents like a shooting attack, we can have a quadcopter in the air within minutes to help locate a terrorist cell that managed to get away, or a terrorist who threw a Molotov cocktail," said Lt. Col. Ayalon Peretz, the deputy commander of the Nitzan Battalion from the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps.
Quadcopters are also being used by Special Forces operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
"The quadcopters go between the alleys, clear the area for the soldiers, scan the rooftops for armed men ambushing our forces," Peretz explained. "A moment before forces close in on a suspect's house, the quadcopter scans the area."
Captain Itay Haronian, a commander of one of the Nitzan Battalion's companies, explained that "before an arrest raid, we scan the suspects' houses with a quadcopter, using the footage to create a three-dimensional image of the area for the troops, marking all obstacles like fences, holes, walls, and possible escape routes."
Hundreds of quadcopters are being used by the IDF on a daily basis. But these quadcopters were not developed by the IDF or for it. At the moment, the military is using civilian-made quadcopters, mostly the Phantom model, that anyone can buy for somewhere around NIS 3,000-5,000.
The army is, however, working on developing the first IDF-made quadcopter, Tzur, which will be able to carry ammunition and logistic equipment, reducing the risk to the soldier that would otherwise have to carry that gear in enemy territory. Tzur will also include state-of-the-art observation measures for both day and night, will be able to operate for hours at a range of up to 10 km, and will have a much quieter engine than that of its civilian counterpart.
For comparison, while Tzur will weigh somewhere between 10-15 kg, the civilian quadcopter currently being used by the IDF only weighs 2.5 kg. However, the focus ability of its day time camera is limited, its night vision camera has been improvised and it is limited to only 20 minutes of flight time at a range of only 2.5 km.
So what use does the IDF make of the quadcopters?
Operations to foil Palestinian infiltrations into Israel are on the rise in light of the high number of terrorists in recent attacks who entered the country illegally.
Hundreds of Palestinians illegally cross into Israel every week through areas of the border fence in the southern Mount Hebron area that have yet to be completed.
In an effort to put an end to this phenomenon, the Yehuda Territorial Brigade has recruited the help of quadcopters.
The IDF is also seeking to arrest drivers who transport Palestinians into Israel illegally and the "facilitators" who make money smuggling them in, thus enabling terrorists who use that route as well.
In the video, the quadcopter captured an operation near the village of Burj, not far from kibbutz Shomria on the other side of the border fence.
The troops used the live feed from the quadcopter to identify the infiltrators and then chase them to an area where the fence had already been erected, to corner and arrest them.
Gaining control of violet riots
The IDF's Judea and Samaria Division has recently begun using quadcopters to monitor and disperse rioting in the West Bank.
The video shows rioting at the Jalazone refugee camp near Ramallah, which Israeli forces were worried would spill over to the nearby settlement of Beit El.
Commanders used the live feed from the quadcopter to more effectively deploy their troops as well as more effectively employ crowd dispersal measures, thus gaining control over the rioters.
Identifying and tracking rioters
Using a quadcopter to contain and disperse rioting has several advantages: It helps identify and later arrest the main instigators, who often cover their faces, by tracking the fleeing rioters to their homes. The footage filmed by the quadcopter would later be used to prosecute them.
In addition, by following the rioters from above, security forces can find where they hide their stores of tires, to be later set aflame during the riot.
The video documents a violent riot that occurs almost every week, mostly on Fridays, in Kafr Qaddum in the Samaria region of the West Bank. The riot is fueled by Palestinian claims that a main road that belongs to the village was appropriated by the nearby settlement Kedumim.
It is often difficult to identify and understand the mistakes made or the points to improve upon following IDF drills and training exercises, particularly in combat basic training, because there is no filmed record of the drill.
To remedy this, the Engineering Corps has decided to use quadcopters to document the four-day final exercise of combat basic training, which was recently held at a military zone in the Jordan Valley.
The quadcopter documented different types of raids from several different angles, both outside and into structures, with live fire and without, as well as entry into and external treatment of terror tunnels, explosive disposal, and treatment of unconventional materials.
Caracal trainees 'conquer' enemy hill
Another force making use of quadcopters to document the final exercise of basic training is the Caracal Battalion—the first infantry battalion in the IDF to introduce female combat soldiers into its ranks.
The Caracal troops begin their level 07 training (similar to that of Golani and Paratroopers soldiers) at the Givati Brigade's training base near the Sinai border fence.
Their final training exercise includes attack formations in open area, firing grenades from an RPG launcher, and observations over the Nitzana area near the border with Egypt, where the battalion is also stationed.
During the exercise, the company conquered a hill where "enemy combatants" were hiding. During their operational duty, these combatants will likely be ISIS militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
Clearing the path for the tanks
Quadcopters have recently been introduced to the veteran Armored Corps, whose troops and commanders are not used to have flying gadgets hovering over their tanks.
But while the quadcopters are currently only used for training, the 7th Armored Brigade, which recently conducted a large-scale drill in the Golan Heights, used them for more than just playing back the action.
The 7th Brigade's infantry combat support company used quadcopters during the drill to clear area for the advancing troops and locate enemy combatants that might be hiding ahead, taking advantage of the quadcopter's availability, speed and simplicity compared to tactical drones or other measures of information gathering.
According to the 77th Battalion's operations officer, Maj. Omer Binyamin, "the quadcopter has an advantage in allowing us to know whether enemy combatants are hiding up ahead. With the quadcopter, we can also see the results of shelling done by the infantry company as well as identify explosives."
Shooting ranges on the Lebanese border
In recent years, the Mount Dov area has become the most sensitive sector on the Lebanon border. But even during times of high tensions, the soldiers of the Golani Brigade's 13th Battalion find the time to maintain operational fitness in between ambushes and patrols.
This video, filmed by the Galilee Division, provides a special glimpse into the troops' daily routine: simulating different scenarios at the shooting range, including execises which examine the marksmanship of the soldiers during the long, exhausting months of operational duty.
In the wilderness of the Jordan Valley
The northern Jordan Valley, much like the Arabah region, is considered one of the tougher areas to control due to the wide dispersal of communities surrounded by empty wilderness.
The IDF's second mixed battalion, the Lions of Jordan—which is in charge of the area—held its first major training exercise last month.
The troops—men and women serving side by side—drilled different scenarios with the help of quadcopters flying overhead, including enemy infiltration into a settlement and capturing of terrorists.
The quadcopters followed the battalion's three operational companies during open-area training as well.
Quickly finding trapped persons
The quadcopters can also be used to scan smaller, much denser areas. The collapse of a parking garage in northern Tel Aviv in September allowed the Home Front Command to use new search and rescue measures that have so far been under development. Among them is a device that searches for signals from cellular devices to find trapped persons and giant sand pumps to hasten the clearing of the wreckage from the site.
But it was the quadcopter, first used in this disaster, which had the most impressive results. It was sent into the air shortly after search and rescue forces arrived at the collapse site, allowing them to quickly map the complex scene. This in turn enabled a more effective extraction of trapped persons on the day of the collapse.
"Within minutes, we received an accurate image of the site and used it to analyze the dangerous spots and figure out where we should start and where to send our teams," said Maj. Menachem Friedman, the head of the Weapons Department at the Home Front Command.
"In the future, we'll also receive a quadcopter with a thermal camera that would aid us in locating hot spots—trapped persons near the surface, who are difficult to spot because of the wreckage. There are also several small quadcopters that would be able to operate inside spaces, but we're still testing those."
The Home Front Command first started using quadcopters during Operation Protective Edge to find rockets that had landed in large open areas. This drastically shortened the time the troops on the ground spent on searching for crash sites.
"In the future, we'll also be able to send a quadcopter to locate dangerous materials by 'smelling' them and reporting back on the affected areas," Maj. Friedman said.
"We intend to use larger quadcopters to transport logistic tools to disaster areas in a faster, safer and more effective manner and with that save human lives. At present, every conscript battalion in the command uses a quadcopter."
The IDF's City of Training Bases
Some 10,000 soldiers serve at Camp Ariel Sharon in the Negev region, more commonly known as the IDF's City of Training Bases due to its massive size—2,500 dunam that house 135 buildings and 450 classrooms and lecture halls.
The quadcopter flown over the project in August documented the different training bases, including The School for Telecommunications, The School for Medicine, The Adjutant Corps School, The School for Logistics, The Military Police School, The Education Corps School, and The Ordnance Corps School.
The City of Training Bases offers much improvement over the old bases, which were scattered across the country. Cadets undergoing the different training courses in the complex can now make use of 3D presentations and other interactive technologies in their studies, while the living quarters and catering in the complex are considered the most modern and advanced in the IDF.