Israeli aerospace company Elbit Systems showcased its cutting-edge Skylark-3 small tactical unmanned aerial systems (STUAS) at the Singapore Airshow this past winter. The advanced drone features a hybrid propulsion system that significantly boosts its endurance without impacting its size or weight.
Based on the classic Skylark-3, the advanced hybrid variant will also possess the capabilities to operate surveillance missions and provide real-time intelligence 24/7. The hybrid Skylark-3 represents the latest addition to Israel’s growing drone stockpile. As one of the largest operators of drones in the Middle East region, the Jewish state primarily uses its UAVs stockpile to support its ground forces.
Israel and its Evolution of Drones
Since its founding, Israel has relied on pre-drone technologies including cameras and other forms of photographic equipment and operations to ensure its survival. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, the importance of being able to properly observe events unfolding across the Suez Canal became a priority for Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
By 1969, an Israeli soldier came up with a creative strategy. The soldier prompted an IDF team to assemble a toy airplane equipped with a German camera capable of taking up to 50 photographs in 24 mm. x 24 mm at half a frame. The team launched the small toy into the sky over an Egyptian city on the west bank of the Suez. Ultimately, the toy plane produced the clearest photographs of Egyptian outposts and positions ever witnessed by the IDF at that point. From this mission, Israel’s remote-control reconnaissance drone program was born.
Today’s Top Drone
Israel’s newest hybrid drone, the Skylark-3, stems from a family of UAVs that dates back to the early 2000s. Israel’s Ministry of Defense selected Elbit Systems to create its first mini-UAV for IDF’s ground forces in 2004. This Skylark-1 mini drone hosts an electric motor that allows the airframe to travel in silence. It can travel up to distances of 10 kilometers to collect data and gather intelligence 24/7.
The drone’s success led to the production of its successor, the Skylark-2, in 2006. This variant was primarily designed for Israeli, Canadian, and Korean defense forces to operate surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence gathering missions. With a range of up to 50 kilometers, the Skylark-2 surpassed the limits of its first model. Elbit’s Skylark-3 variant entered service in 2008 and has supported the IDF in several combat missions including Operation Protective Edge. The classic Skylark-3 has been exported to more than 30 countries and is considered a formidable airframe by industry and military experts.
Enhancements in the Air
Elbit System’s new hybrid Skylark-3 variant hosts enhancements that allow the drone to operate for nearly 18 hours at a time. By extending the UAV’s endurance, the airframe’s hybrid propulsion system increases its mission effectiveness. According to Elbit, the drone “uses its combustion engine to fly rapidly to the Area Of Interest (AOI) and switches to the electrical engine while operating above the AOI. The twin-engine architecture of the new Skylark enables one to back up the other, providing greater reliability and safety.”
According to a Globes report, around a dozen hybrid Skylark-3, mini-tactical drones have already been purchased by several international customers. The UAV’s advanced attributes will bode well for its success in the export market.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.