December 10, 2012
Credit: Credit: Israel Aerospace Industries
David Fulghum Ashdod, Israel
Some of the mystery ingredients of Israel's potent aerial strike forces are embedded in variants of the Gulfstream G550—darling of the business jet set—that are modified by Israel Aerospace Industries into military special-missions aircraft.
Versions of these compare roughly to the U.S. Air Force's RC-135 Rivet Joint (signals and communications intelligence), E-8B Joint Stars (radar ground surveillance) and the E-3 AWACS (air-to-air surveillance). But there also are some interesting differences. The sensor combinations are being shifted and expanded, data is being transferred and networked through protected communications links, and multi-spectral fusion is creating a real-time targeting and command capability. Such changes have become increasingly important as enemy forces have become smaller, faster and more lethal since the beginning of the Second Intafada in 2000.
First in the portfolio is the special electronics mission aircraft (SEMA) and airborne command-and-control post. The Israeli air force (IAF) has three of the aircraft operational, according to open sources.
The IAF describes the SEMA design as“battle-proven,” which likely means it has been operationally active in the campaigns against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, as well as the mysterious 2007 attack on the Syrian nuclear reactor and the raid on a Sudanese arms production and storage site earlier this year.
IAF officials asked IAI to compress signals, communications and other intelligence-collection capabilities into more-efficient airframes. The need was for smaller, cheaper, higher-performance aircraft that require less power and cooling for extensive electronic payloads, said Gideon Landa, General manager of Elta's Airborne Systems and Radars Div., earlier this year.
“The G550 became available and Elta made a very capable sensor suite that was compact enough to fit in it,” he says.
The aircraft have electronic and communications intelligence-gathering packages and secure, advanced communications. It also functions as a command-and-control post that can conduct strike and intelligence-gathering missions far from Israel.