Hezbollah: Methods and Flight Modes Challenge Israel’s UAV Interception Capabilities

By: Boaz Shapira & Tal Beeri

In recent months, Hezbollah’s utilization of UAVs has increased, as has their lethality. In March 2024, there were 24 UAV infiltration occurrences, in April, the number rose to 42 incidents, and until May 15, 19 incidents were recorded.

This data also includes infiltration incidents of gathering intelligence UAVs. Three of the six Israelis killed in the northern arena in the past month were killed in UAV strikes.

Hezbollah’s main suicide UAV for carrying out operations is the Iranian Ababil T2. (also known as Hezbollah’s Merced 1 or the Qassaf for the Houthis in Yemen). We expanded on its abilities in our April 2024 article. Use of Suicide UAVs: Hezbollah Increases its Ability and Improves its Capability – Alma Research and Education Center (israel-alma.org)

The increased use of UAVs by Hezbollah, as well as the severity of their strikes, indicate the difficulties in dealing with such weapons: the difficulty stems from being capable of detect and intercept the target early on, and the difficulty stems from Hezbollah’s operational procedures.

The challenge in early identification and interception stems from the target’s small dimensions and sluggish speed. A UAV’s flying speed of up to 300 km/h is fast, yet it is comparatively slow in comparison to high-trajectory weaponry and airplanes, making it difficult to detect by radar. In addition, the steep topography hinders the detection capabilities of radars operating in the region.

The difficulties resulting from Hezbollah’s operational procedures is demonstrated in Hezbollah’s activity in detecting gaps in the Israeli defensive system, the deployment of several pre-prepared camouflaged launching points, and the way in which the UAV is flown to its target.

To maximize the effectiveness of its assaults, Hezbollah is continually examining Israel’s detection system by launching UAVs on multiple routes and flight profiles to uncover gaps and weaknesses.

At the same time, Hezbollah adopts measures that make it harder to identify launching sites and operatives in advance, as well as shorten attack durations. To this goal, Hezbollah placed a large number of ready-to-fight UAVs in southern Lebanon near the border and concealed them in open and built-up areas.

The attached video, released by Hezbollah in recent days, shows a Hezbollah operative removing a camouflage net from a UAV that may have been deployed in advance on the ground (second 1:08):

This prior preparation saves a lot of time while prepping the UAV for launch and makes it extremely difficult to thwart. Furthermore, the closeness of launch locations to the border significantly reduces flight durations, making detection and interception systems much more challenging.

Another difficulty concerns the manner in which the UAV is piloted toward the target:

One method of flying is to pre-define the target and flight path such that the flight to the target may be completed independently using GPS and INS (inertial navigation). Since the start of the war, the IDF has been deploying large GPS blockades in the north to make it more difficult to operate UAVs and other precise weaponry. Although inertial navigation is not vulnerable to electronic interference, it is regarded less precise over long distances. However, Hezbollah may be employing “roadblock-bypassing” techniques in this area, which Russia used successfully during its war with Ukraine.

The Russian lessons learned are implemented in the Iranian UAVs operated by the Russians, and hence the path is very short to implement and improve the Iranian UAVs used by Hezbollah.

A second possibility is to have an operator control the UAV while managing it during its flight. Although certain Ababil models are equipped with cameras that send images to the control center, it appears that the UAV in the most recent video published by Hezbollah (May 11), launched toward Beit Hillel, did not have a camera. This raises the likelihood that the pilot must maintain direct eye contact with the target in order to hit accurately.

If the footage published by Hezbollah is not manipulated, it may be assumed that the UAV that struck the Beit Hillel region was piloted by an operator who was in eye contact with his target. In this situation, the IDF’s GPS block was likely ineffective. It is probable that in the case of targets near the Lebanese border that may have eye contact from within Lebanese territory, the piloting is manual.

In conclusion, it is evident that Hezbollah’s operation of UAVs poses a challenge to the IDF’s detection and defense systems. Some of these challenges are universal and familiar to other armies around the world, while others are unique to the northern sector and stem from Hezbollah’s terrain and modus operandi. These challenges require the IDF to adapt the way its forces operate on the ground in order to prevent injury, as well as create new detection and protection technologies while improving the ones it already has.

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Alma Research

Alma Research

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