IAI's family of loitering attack systems


In the rapidly changing battlefield of the 21st century, the ability to detect and rapidly  strike time-sensitive targets has become one of the most important aspects of combat success. This ability is more relevant than ever, whethe the adversary is an asymmetric actor hiding in an urban arena, or a military with targets on the move. Precise, rapid, pinpoint strikes are needed in modern warfare, with an emphasis on reducing collateral damage as much as possible. More than thirty five years ago, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) began developing a family of loitering attack systems, by connecting its missile abilities with drone designs. 

The result was a series of products that gives operators the ability to strike pinpoint, time critical targets, the kind of ability that is becoming ever-more relevant in the rapidly changing battlefield.

"Like a hunter or a sniper that metaphorically waits for the target to appear, this is the idea behind our guided munition systems," a senior IAI company official said. "The world is moving towards a new kind of battlefield, which is becoming more complex in the asymmetric and symmetric spheres. This can be seen in both types of combat," he stated. When IAI began developing its loitering munitions, it already had fire-and-forget missiles that were fully autonomous, but an operational challenge arose when operators were not certain about the location of targets. The first system to address this gap is the Harpy, a platform which, according to IAI, laid down the foundation for all of its loitering munitions. 

The Harpy is a fire-and-forget autonomous weapon that is launched from a ground vehicle behind the battle zone. It detects, attacks, and destroys enemy radar emitters with high accuracy, suppressing hostile SAM and radar sites for long durations, and loitering over enemy territory for hours.  It is currently operational with several air forces around the world. "Its advantage is that it knows how to deal with changing situations while in the air," an IAI source said. "When we developed the next member of the loitering munition family, the Harop, it inherited these features. The big difference is the replacement of Harpy's radiation seeker with the Harop's electro-optical seeker, and the insertion of a human operator in the attack loop, thereby greatly avoiding collateral damage," he added. 

The human operator dictates the critical order of steps, such as deciding when to attack and when to abort. The Harop also conducts its own automatic processes during this time. 

The Harop and Harpy evolved into two groups of products that have since undergone a series of upgrades. Neither is dependent on outside intelligence, and their flight ranges have been extended to up 200 kilometres, together with an ability to fly for up to nine hours over targets.  

The Harop can target mobile targets as they appear – a crucial ability in the battlefield of today - and tomorrow. "The ability to dive at the target, and abort seconds before striking it, significantly decreases collateral damage," the IAI source stressed. In recent years, the systems' propulsion systems, sensors, computer systems, end electronics have all experienced upgrades. The platforms are also more aerodynamic than in the past, and more energy efficient. They employ navigational systems that rely on both internal and external systems, meaning there is no dependence on just one kind of navigation. The systems can deliver strike solutions for ground forces, navies and the air force. 

Tactical loitering attack systems

In the lighter-weight section of IAI's loitering munition family, the company has developed a miniature version of the Harop, known as mini Harop. This tactical, low-cost loitering munition is designed for small ground units and special operations forces, delivering high situational awareness and firepower in a compact platform. The Mini Harop is stored, transported, and launched from a sealed canister, and one small vehicle can move as many as 16 units. It is operated from a tablet-sized control panel and equipped with high quality day/night electro-optical guidance systems, enabling it to collect visual intelligence at range of up to 50 kilometres. It is powered by a battery-powered electric motor with a flight time of up two hours. There is also a miniature version of the Harpy, for radiation-seeking anti-radar missions.

The smallest member of this family is the Rotem, a tactical loitering munition that is named after the Hebrew acronym of the words 'suicide attack drone.' This multi-rotor platform, whose design is influenced by commercial drones, delivers low signature strikes on enemy targets in urban and complex battle arenas, and can be deployed in under one minute by a single soldier. The Rotem can hover for up to 45 minutes, and dive at a speed of up to 50 knots. It is able to conduct both reconnaissance and lethal precision strike missions, depending on its payloads, striking targets that are stationary or on the move.