“Orbiter 2” (front) and “Orbiter 3” unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems developed by the Israel’s Aeronautics Group are displayed at the Unmanned Vehicles Conference 2015 on November 9, 2015, in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — The Israeli firm Aeronautics, which makes tactical drones, recently announced the latest addition to its family of Orbiter unmanned aerial vehicles, this one envisioned as a one-way loitering munition designed to work in concert with nearby surveillance UAVs.

The new platform, named Orbiter 2 LM, for loitering munition, was announced on June 6. The company envision it working with a new system, Orbiter 2 STS or “sensor-to-shooter,” that will pair the loitering munition with nearby surveillance drones that can do battlefield surveillance before a strike and damage assessment afterwards.

“As we see it looking at the last conflicts, especially Ukraine and what goes on here with Israel’s conflict, we see the rise of the importance of maneuvering forces,”  Eyal Assenhaym, Vice-President of Marketing and Business Development at Aeronautics Group, said in an interview with Breaking Defense. This is a shift from using drones primarily in counter-terrorism operations to being used in concert with regular infantry battalions, where soldiers may not have access to larger, more equisite surveillance UAVs. “This creates a critical need for organic intelligence capabilities for the ground forces. The forces need to be organic, meaning they can operate it by themselves for their needs in a time critical operation.”

Aeronautics has been in the tactical drone business for two decades, but Assenhaym said like militaries the world over, they’ve had to adapt to the modern battlefield.

“We are proposing now a combined system. You can buy one ISR Orbiter 2 together with some Orbiter 2LMs [loitering munitions]. Both have the same platform communication, ground control and the same HMI [human machine interface],” he said. Assenhaym said the system has costumers but they could not reveal any of them. “It will be deployed with them in coming months,” he said.

The Orbiter 2 drone is launched from a catapult. It weighs around 28 pounds and has a wingspan of nine feet, with a flight time of several hours. The company describes the new system as a new generation of the existing Orbiter 2.

“It combines the lethality of the loitering munition with the ISR capabilities of the unmanned aerial system [UAS]. It can stay in the sky for two hours. It’s electric so It’s very quiet…[providing a] low detection probability due to low acoustic, optic and radar signature,” Assenhaym said. Assenhaym adds that the drone’s “pinpoint precision attack” means “minimum collateral damage” and it has anti-jamming capabilities and encrypted communications. The system uses artificial intelligence (AI) to assist in capabilities such as target recognition. “If you recognize a type of unique target, so next time the algorithm will improve and it will recognize this behavior,” Assenhaym notes.

A video the company screened during the interview showed the loitering munition striking a truck driving on a road. “The target should be described as quality, time sensitive, soft targets. It cannot take out a building. But radar antennas, comms center, command posts — things like that,” he said.

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As the LM is in the same family as the surveillance birds, deploying several in the field at the same time does not require a much larger logistical footprint, Assenhaym adds. This means that a unit doesn’t need multiple ways to launch them. “This is the shortest and most efficient way to close sensor-to-shooter circle and also gives you bomb damage assessment (BDA). Because the ISR [drone] is following [and viewing the results of the attack]. You can follow up with another attack.”

Though Assenhyam didn’t say who committed customers might be, the Israeli Defense Forces are known to use other drones in the Orbiter family. The IDF is currently involved in major urban operations in Gaza, which have been the focus of international attention and much condemnation, and Israeli officials have suggested clashes with Hezbollah in Lebanon could spark a larger conflict there.