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By ARIE EGOZI

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) will not be able to count only on UAVs when the mission is protecting the Israeli Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

According to sources the task will require the continued use of manned aircraft like the G-550 AEW aircraft that also have sea patrol capabilities.

The IAF’s UAVs already play a major role in protecting the huge gas reservoirs that have been discovered in the Mediterranean off the Israeli coast.

The mission of protecting the reservoirs and the pumping installations is performed jointly by the IAF and the Israeli navy. Currently the IAF is operating the Israel aerospace industries (IAI) Heron -1 (Shoval) in maritime patrol missions. Navy personnel is operating the control station on the coast.

An Israeli source said that while UAVs are excellent tools for “patrol missions”, they lack the capability to reach very fast to an area where something that is looking like an evolving threat, has been spotted by some sensor either in the air, space or ground. “This requires a very fast aircraft with the needed sensors that can get to the area and verify whether the threat is real and how imminent it is.”

Some of the IAF’s G-550 AEW aircraft are equipped for fast reaction sea missions.

Protecting the EEZ is only one example of the growing cooperation between the IAF and the navy and this cooperation is growing as new systems are introduced into the two services.

Most of these upgrades are classified but one has recently been mentioned in the IAF website. The report says that the “cooperation between the forces is increasing”. The connection between the Navy and the Heavy Transport Squadrons (of the IAF) has been tightening; a process which can be seen in the recent increase in the amount of mutual training exercises.

According to this report, the IAF’s C-130 and the C-130J can transport special naval forces to far-away destinations, airdrop them with their boats into the sea, which brings them closer to farther battlefields and thus they can report back to all the troops that are on their way.

The IAF is currently using the AS-565 helicopters (Atalef) for reconnaissance in most cases from the decks of the navy’s missile boats.

The “Defenders of the West” Squadron, which currently flies these  helicopters, is likely to receive a major reinforcement in the next few years, as the IAF is currently examining the possibility of acquiring a new naval reconnaissance helicopter which will improve the joint effort.

Both forces are currently conducting tests, with the goal of achieving better operational cooperation and strengthening the joint efforts.

The enhanced use of UAVs for naval reconnaissance has not affected the need for new advanced helicopters for maritime missions.