Brian Blum
June 28, 2018, Updated May 16, 2021

In the past three months, hundreds of fire kites and flaming helium balloons – some with explosives attached – have been launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel, causing hundreds of fires, often several a day, that have burned thousands of acres (nearly 7 square miles of land) on the Israeli side of the border. More than half of that land has been in nature reserves.

The damage, which has been estimated in the millions of shekels, has created a major headache for the Israel Defense Forces, thus far at a loss for how to combat this new kind of terrorism without causing loss of life.

Two new technologies may help Israel regain its deterrence. One is already being deployed, the other is on the way.

The first is called Sky Spotter. It’s built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and has been operating along the Gaza border for the past week.

Sky Spotter was originally developed to counter small drones, but the same tech can track balloons or kites in the sky and determine where they’re most likely to land. Sky Spotter’s control panel displays each kite or balloon with a red dot. This information is then sent to firefighters who head to the landing points to douse the flames before they can spread.

That’s only a partial solution, of course: spotting the fire kites is a start but knocking them out of the sky before they ignite the countryside is the army’s ultimate goal. For that, the IDF is testing a laser system to shoot the flying firebombs while they’re still in flight. Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported that development on this system is advancing and is expected to be deployed “soon.”

The ease with which the fire kites can cross into Israel has raised another concern: mini-drones from Gaza carrying explosives. For that, the IDF is testing its own anti-drone drones. The concept is that the IDF’s drones will fire hundreds of thin aluminum strips at the enemy mini-drone, thus entangling the drone’s rotor blades and bringing it down.

Sky Spotter can help here, too, by sending the IDF’s defensive drones in the right direction towards the Gazan mini-drones.

Finally, the IDF is also testing the possibility of “crashing” its own drones into the kites. The drones would survive but the flimsy kites are easily destroyed. Sky Spotter would play a role in automating the IDF drones, freeing up operators and allowing the IDF to target more kites at once.

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