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Israel Boosts its Loitering Munitions Program with Aeronautics Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

The Orbiter 1K is an unmanned aerial vehicle designed by Aeronautics to be an expendable platform in reconnaissance or payload delivery. The unit is launched by catapult and has an average flying time of three hours. Depending on the nature of the mission, the drone will fly itself into its target with a 2-kilogram explosive, or take video surveillance with an Electro-Optical/Infrared camera. The UAV can be recovered with an automatic parachute when the opportunity presents itself; but it is also expendable for those critical times where every second counts. Israeli military is said to have ordered hundreds of the units in a contract with Aeronautics Defense Systems.

Loitering munitions is a relatively new term in the defense industry, blurring the line between drone and missile. The first instance was the Israel Aerospace Industries Harpy, used to target ground based radar installations or missile batteries. It became known as a “suicide drone” and utilized like a modernized mortar—delivering lethal payloads in a concentrated radius. Once armed and launched into the air the drone can “loiter” while the operator chooses their target. The Orbiter 1k can be equally as lethal, but with added utility can collect and transmit visual data during reconnaissance. If launched in “shoot and forget” mode, the drone will search out its target autonomously and even return to base if its target is not found.

What may be the most impressive piece of technology on the drone is its EO/IR sensor part types. Camera resolution is not disclosed but the drone likely has multiple sensors operating in the short wavelength infrared for night missions. The drone also must be able to distinguish point targets from a cluttered background and transmit the information back to the operator. With a payload radius of about two meters, accurate targeting is extremely important for this drone.

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