The Drones Done Did It

The Israeli Heron TP drone has a wingspan of 86 feet, the size of a Boeing 737 passenger jet. The UAV, which can fly for at least 20 consecutive hours, is used primarily for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

Seraphic Secret has just returned from a four-day trip to Israel, where we attended our niece Ariella’s wedding. We then spent a lovely and peaceful Shabbat with beloved cousins in Mitzpe Netofa, a yishuv in the upper Galilee.

We are beyond jet-lagged. In fact, semi-comatose.

But before collapsing in a cranky heap, we’d like to post a few thoughts on Gaza, Operation Pillar of Defense, and the implications for the future of warfare between Western democracies and Islamist terrorists and terrorist states.

To determine where Israeli military doctrine is heading in terms of asymmetrical warfare, you can go to the glossy think-tanks and listen to a bunch of smart but usually clueless eggheads. Or you can sit down with a few scary-smart, articulate young men who are about to enter elite cyber-units within the Israeli military.

Seraphic Secret chose the latter.

These young men leave us with one overriding image: the primacy of drones.

While the number of drones the IDF used in their precision strikes in Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense is highly classified, we believe that an overwhelming number of sorties were carried out by unmanned drones.

Said one scary-smart young man:

“Drones are more precise than pilots and they carry a bigger payload.”

“But surely drones can’t entirely replace a highly-trained pilot,” I said.

“No, not entirely. But the pilot will see his role diminished in the years to come. Advanced jets have simply become too expensive, almost too complex. Training pilots takes years and costs a fortune. Drones are much cheaper and the pilots are geeky kids with joysticks who flew simulators and played video games as children. The F15 is obsolete. How long can we keep replacing parts in the F16? And the Americans don’t seem to know what they’re doing with the F35.

“Look, we built the Merkava tank all by ourselves, and it’s perfect for our type of warfare. We can’t build an advanced fighter jet. But we can build excellent drones.”

As always in Israel, the conversation turned to Iran, the center of gravity for all things terrorist.

We wondered: “Can drones take out the Iranian nuclear program?”

Said our scary-smart young friend: “Absolutely. They can stay in the air far longer than a fighter jet. They carry a bigger payload. We don’t have to worry about refueling, and even more important, we don’t have to worry about losing a pilot. Without a pilot, we eliminate all the support and rescue teams that add to the complexity of any mission. Plus, we can can program the drone to self-destruct if necessary.”

“But what about invisibility? Can drones trick radar in order to penetrate hostile air space?

“Okay, that is a problem. But we can solve it in several ways. First, of course, we jam their defenses. Then we can fly drones just a few feet off the ground, thereby evading radar. We can write topographic programs for the entire flight. Very cool stuff. ”

Finally, the $64,000 question:

“Do you think the raid on Iran will be led by drones?”


The next time you see a kid flying a model airplane or obsessively working the joystick of a killer video game, be aware that you are looking at the warrior of the future.

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  1. Brianna
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    This was interesting.  Thanks for posting.

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  2. Jackie W - Kansas
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    4 days ???? Couldn’t stay longer after flying all that way ????

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted December 5, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Jackie W:

      Alas, four days was all we could spare.

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  3. Nickie Clifford
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink


    Coming from an ENTIRELY different perspective compared to your other gracious commentors regarding this post – who is that darling little girl standing in front of that big jet;)  

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted December 5, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink


      That is an Israeli soldier. After high school, all men and women serve 3 years in the army. The women soldiers are all kind of gorgeous.

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      • Brianna
        Posted January 17, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        Women only serve 2 years

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        • Robert J. Avrech
          Posted January 18, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

          My bad. Thanks for the correction.

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  4. kishke
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    We wondered: “Can drones take out the Iranian nuclear program?
    Said our scary-smart young friend: “Absolutely.

    This is not reassuring. Airpower advocates are often (always?) sure their planes can do anything and everything, but it’s not always borne out in practice, witness the Lebanon invasion as a case in point.

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted December 5, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink


      I voiced the same reservations to my friend. He agreed that Lebanon was a mess — because air power was being used in place of boots on the ground. So far, the raid on Iran does not involve ground troops—except for some special forces—thus drones make perfect sense. BTW, I get a strong sense that the Israeli Navy will also play a large role in the raid, but my friend was curiously silent on that.

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  5. kishke
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    I can see where the obsolescence of military pilots might have devastating effects on commercial air travel. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not too keen on the idea of traveling on a UAV flown by a computer geek with a joystick.

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  6. Posted December 3, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Drones, UAVs, UAS, whatever you want to call them, are the future.  Given equal (or near equal) outcomes, the cheaper alternative or the one which minimizes the loss of (your team’s) lives will be chosen. In the case of drones, they are both cheaper AND minimize loss of life.
    Here’s an excellent resource if you’re interested in learning more about our current drones: 
    I’ve often wondered if we’ll progress to a time when American robots battle the evil robots (of say, Iran) and the humans sit behind computer terminals. The next logical step will be the Star Trek episode “A Taste of Armageddon” where war is waged through computer attacks and those declared casualties will simply reports to disintegration chambers. Simple, clean, effective.

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  7. mata hari
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Can’t it hurt them when they publicize exactly what they plan on doing?

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted December 5, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Mata Hari:

      Major portions of my conversation with my geek friend have been redacted. All else is common conversation in Israel.

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  8. mk in teaneck
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink


    I also have family in Mitzpeh Netofah.  We have visited there, and it is a beautiful community.  But, more impressive than the peaceful and communal atmosphere is the yishuv’s zeal for the Land of Israel and Torah.  It is inspiring.



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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted December 5, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink


      The yishuv is a true religious Zionist oasis in a post-Zionist world. In shul, so many men came over to me, said Shabbat Shalom, and welcomed me to the community. I met the General who is responsible for Northern Gaza.

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  9. David Foster
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Bill…”One of the things they told us is that the sharing of airspace with manned planes is becoming a big concern with the FAA. ”

    And rightly so. While I’m not particularly worried about the safety implications of UAVs remotely “flown” by qualified USAF or other military pilots, I’m indeed concerned about casual operation of drones by local police and various private entities. Even a lightweight drone could probably cause a crash if it hits the rotor on, say, an emergency-medical helicopter.

    There have been several cases of local governments operating drones without even bothering to check whether or not it was in accordance with the Federal Aviation Regulations…apparently they have a strong interpretation of federalism… 

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  10. Johnny
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    The Wright brothers made history at Kitty Hawk a little more than 100 years ago.  Now we are at the point that the last fighter pilot may have already been born. Battleships were obsolete by 12-7-41 (something the Japanese attack force launched from carriers should have known) and we may have an event exposing the F35s as obsolete.

    If drones can take out the Iranian nuclear facilities I say let them loose. There will be a time where drone technology is common and we need to take advantage of our superiority while we can.

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    • Bill Brandt
      Posted December 3, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Johnny – as to whether the Japanese “should have known” the carrier was an unproven weapon on Dec 7 – other than Billy Mitchell in the 20s proving that a plane could sink a battleship.
      The carrier was proven after the battle of Midway – 1942 – when neither side ever saw the other’s ships – it was all fought with aircraft. 
      Countries generally prepare for the next war using weapons from the previous war.

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      • Johnny
        Posted December 4, 2012 at 12:47 am | Permalink

        But the Japanese didn’t send battleships to Pearl Harbor to sink our battleships, they sent planes from six carriers. Sinking the battleships was an objective of the Japanese navy. But had they completely ignored battleship row and attacked the submarine base and sunk the american carriers (had they been in port) they would have controlled the Pacific and the name Midway would never have been part of WWII.

        If the Japanese really thought the Pacific would be settled by a great fight between battleships, the results of what their planes did at Pearl should have disabused them (and the U.S. Navy) of that belief. Instead the Japanese hoarded their battleships for the great battle that never occurred. And the U.S. navy spent resources repairing six of Pearl’s battleships. Did no one in either navy figure out what had just happened on 12-7-41? What about after Coral Sea? After Midway? All surface ships suddenly were sitting ducks unless protected a carrier.  And the carrier, not the battleships, was the queen bee of any task force.

        If drones can now do everything jets can, I hope the Pentagon is not holding onto fighter jets for nostalgic purposes the way the navy hung onto battleships after Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea and Midway. 

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  11. Bill Brandt
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    A couple of years ago I took a tour of Beale AFB, home of the late SR-71 and still the U2 spy planes. They also fly the drone Global Challenger out of there. It has a massive wingspan – capable of leaving Beale and going anywhere in the world for – I think – 60 hours. The wingspan is enormous.
    One of the things they told us is that the sharing of airspace with manned planes is becoming a big concern with the FAA. 
    In other news a Navy drone just finished a successful test for a catapult launch. Just one advantage, drones don’t worry about blacking out due to excessive G-forces.

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