September 9, 2020, 3:33 AM MDT
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American soldiers are employing a drone that Israel pioneered to take down flaming kites launched over the border from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli Defense Ministry.
The Skylord drone, equipped with a system developed by an Israeli civilian drone company and the U.S. and Israeli defense departments, will be deployed in a pilot program to protect American forces against aerial threats, including hostile unmanned aircraft.
Its development is testament to the close cooperation between the Israeli and U.S. militaries. It’s also a reflection of an Israeli drone ecosystem nourished by veterans cycling in and out of the army throughout decades of reserves service and applying lessons learned in the civilian companies where they work.
The core of the system being put to the test by the American military was developed by Israeli startup Xtend, whose chief technology officer, Rubi Liani, took on the Gaza threat as a navy officer with a passion for drone racing.
The Israeli military initially was blindsided when Gaza militants began sending hundreds of incendiary balloons and kites over Israel’s southern border, setting thousands of acres of Israeli farmland and nature reserves on fire. Then Liani showed a top commander how recreational drones could take out these threats in less than 20 seconds. Xtend was born of that 2018 experience.
Global spending on drone technology is expected to grow as an overall percentage of military budgets as armies search for ways to optimize resources and minimize forces’ exposure to danger. It’s already more than doubled since 2014 to about $9 billion annually, according to the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York, which estimates 95 countries possess military drone technology, up from 60 a decade ago.
At the same time, the expanded use of drones has generated criticism that they encourage human rights abuses by mitigating the political cost of keeping wars simmering.