The United Arab Emirates is looking to expand its arsenal of Israeli counter-drone defense systems following a deadly Houthi drone strike on its capital.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Monday launched a drone attack near Abu Dhabi’s airport that claimed the lives of three people and injured several others. The attack also caused multiple explosions.
A Houthi spokesperson claimed that that attack included a “large number of drones” as well as five ballistic missiles, according to the Houthi-owned Al Masirah TV channel, although the use of ballistic missiles has been disputed by some defense experts.
An additional eight weaponized drones were launched from Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, toward Saudi Arabia but were intercepted by the Saudi-led coalition.
As a result of the drone strike, the UAE is now looking to acquire new Israeli-made anti-drone systems. It had already purchased and deployed one such system in recent months.
“Due to the incident that happened this week, they are now asking us what we can supply them with as soon as possible out of a long list of systems,” Itzik Huber, CEO of Skylock Systems, part of the Avnon HLS Group, said.
Based in Israel, Skylock Systems specializes in the design and production of technologies for the detection, verification and neutralization of unauthorized drones. The company’s technology has been deployed in 31 countries, including the United States and, more recently, Morocco.
According to Huber, the UAE would have been able to prevent Monday’s strike if they had an anti-drone system in place at or near the airport.
“Had they deployed such a system there, they would have known ahead of time that a strike was incoming,” he added. “Even if you’re unable to stop the attack, knowing that it is about to happen is very important because you can move people to shelters and look for ways to defend yourself.”
In order to stop a drone attack, the UAV must first be detected. Skylock is able to detect hostile drones from over 20 km, or 12.4 miles away, Huber said.
Once that is accomplished, there are several avenues that can be used to disarm it.
“Most can be blocked electronically, for instance by disabling the drone’s GPS or navigation system, shutting off its video capabilities or by jamming the frequency that the drone uses to fly,” Huber said.
Another option is to send out a high-speed drone to take down its hostile counterpart.
Other Israeli air defense tech firms said that preventing drone strikes like the one that took place in Abu Dhabi is easier said than done.
“The biggest challenge with these drones is that they can fly very low and quite fast, and since they are relatively smooth objects it’s more difficult to detect them with traditional radars,” Lior Segal, CEO of ThirdEye Systems, said. “This attack [in Abu Dhabi] happened from a very long distance – hundreds of kilometers – so it’s a very challenging object to detect. It’s a very simple but very effective weapon.”
ThirdEye Systems specializes in AI-powered object recognition algorithms and its products are currently being used by the Israel Defense Forces as well as other leading defense bodies around the world. Its electro-optical detection system is used mainly against small drones.
Attack drones such as the one used by the Houthi rebels, Segal said, can carry up to 45 kilograms, or 99 pounds of explosives, and fly at speeds of roughly 200 kph (125 mph) over distances reaching hundreds of miles.
“Because Israel is a small country, I think we have quite a good coverage,” Segal said. “In Israel we’re very aware.”
However, Skylock’s Huber warned that the threat of drone strikes is already very serious and will only grow as time goes on, thanks to the immense destructive potential and easy availability of drones.
“As we saw in Abu Dhabi, Houthi terrorists were able to target the capital’s main airport and kill people,” Huber said. “This attack was carried out using a very simple device – a drone – that is very easy to use and buy. You don’t need a license either.”
“Unlike learning to be a pilot and flying a plane into a building, which is complicated, nowadays you can purchase a drone for $500 and have it carry explosives,” he continued. “It’s a big threat that’s only going to get bigger. Unless you have a specific way to stop the drone, then there’s nothing you can do.”
Article written by Maya Margit and reprinted with permission from the Media Line