Safer Skies

Israeli technology rescues London’s second busiest Airport

By David E. Kaplan

South Africa take note; If Israeli technology saved the day in Great Britain, look what it can contribute in your neck of the African woods facing enormous challenges. 

A tiny country, Israel’s expertise in technology shows – “size does not matter”. Ask the hundreds of thousands of travelers that were piling up and stranded at Gatwick Airport in December 2018 that was until the British ‘cavalry’ arrived equipped with Israeli technology.

image001 (25)
Before & After. The information board shows scheduled flights arrivals cancelled and diverted at London Gatwick Airport, south of London, on December 20, 2018 after all flights were grounded due to drones flying over the airfield. (Glyn Kirk/AFP)

It all started with the skies over the United Kingdom’s second busiest airport threatened by mysterious unmanned aerial vehicles.  After 36 hours of airport paralysis the week before Christmas, stranding over 100,000 travelers, the British military arrived with one of six “Drone Domes” it had purchased a few months earlier from Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

image006 (9)
An arrivals board in the South Terminal building at Gatwick Airport, after the airport reopened to flights following its forced closure because of drone activity, in Gatwick, Britain, December 21, 2018. (photo credit: TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS)

Established in 1948, the same year as Israel’s independence, Rafael “develops, manufactures and supplies a wide range of high-tech defense systems for air, land, sea and space applications.”

The Israeli Drone Dome rescued Gatwick from continued shutdown when it pinpointed the suspicious invader and jammed the radio frequencies used by its operator to control it, rendering the UAV unable to move.

Rafael1.pngThis ended the airport’s 36-hour shutdown that had caused havoc to air travel and discomfort to thousands of passengers.

Thanks to Israel, Gatwick was again open for business.

The UK’s Daily Mail reported that the British Army bought six Drone Dome systems for £15.8 million in 2018, and the technology was used by its Army in Syria and Iraq to take down UAVs flown by the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group.

So even though Israel’s immense contributions in fighting global threats are kept below the ‘radar’ – seldom revealed in the world media – the skies of Iraq and London can be thankful of the Jewish state’s impressive technology.

The British police had tried first to use its own technology which proved useless, hence ‘dialing’ in for Israel’s unique Drone Dome system.

Very pleased to see Israeli technology being used at Gatwick airport to make flights possible again,” tweeted the former Chairman of the Conservative Party Lord Eric Pickles. “This is GOOD news for travelers and BAD news for those peddling a boycott of Israeli goods,” added the current chairman of the of Conservative Friends of Israel.

image005 (13)
Got You Covered. Israel’s Rafael system has 360-degree circular coverage and is designed to rapidly detect, track and neutralize drones classified as threats.

Rafael describes the system as “designed to provide effective airspace defense against hostile drones used by terrorists to perform aerial attacks, collect intelligence, and other intimidating activities.” It uses four radars providing full 360-degree coverage to scan the entire skyline.

The Drone Dome system which has reportedly been used to protect against hostile drones during battles against ISIS in Mosul and eastern Syria, can be operated from a stationary or mobile position. The UK Ministry of Defense was its first foreign customer.

Game of Drones

Using its 360-degree detection technology, the system can identify drones from 3-5 kilometers away and then uses its electro-optical sensors to jam the radio frequencies being used by the enemy drone’s operator to control it, making the UAV inoperable and bringing it down in a so-called “soft-kill.”

The Israeli system also has a laser that can melt drones, although this technology was not purchased by Britain according to the Daily Mail.

image007 (3)
No Match For Israel. A drone that was grounded using Rafael’s ‘Drone Dome’ system. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Britain’s Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC that there had been about 40 sightings of “a small number of drones” causing a disruption at Gatwick that was “unprecedented anywhere in the world.”

The airport – about 45 kilometers south of central London -processes over 43 million passengers a year so that any runway closure cannot avoid a disastrous spillover impact on the international air travel system.  This was precisely what occurred with many holiday plans disrupted and travelers stuck at Gatwick until – sorry to “Drone On” – they sent in Israel’s counter drone.

image004 (21)
Eye In The Sky. Police officers stand near equipment on the rooftop of a building at London Gatwick Airport, south of London, on December 21, 2018. (Ben Stansall/AFP)

While Israel is the world’s largest exporter of military drones, the Startup Nation is also emerging a powerhouse in the development of commercial drones and related technologies. A growing number of drone startups – 64 of them are listed on Start-Up Nation Central’s website — focus on civilian needs from delivering pizza to monitoring industrial environments and now airports.

When it comes to Drone vs Drone, Israel is ‘flying high’!