Hezbollah gunmen carrying QW-18 shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles rehearsed in southern Lebanon in May 2023. Photo: AP

Hezbollah demonstrated its deterrent capacity when it shot down the Hermes 900, a type of UAV that Israel once believed was beyond the force’s ability to intercept.

Haaretz newspaper on April 8, citing unnamed sources in the Israeli military, admitted that Hezbollah forces shot down the country’s modern Hermes 900 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over Lebanon but did not reveal the type of weapons used in the incident.

“This is the first time this incident has happened. It is a warning bell that Israeli UAVs are not invulnerable,” said a source.

The Hermes 900 was developed by Israel’s Elbit Systems corporation based on the Hermes 450 model. It focuses on improving flight range and continuous air operation time. This is the second-largest UAV model in the Israeli Air Force, specializing in tactical-level tasks.

The Hermes 900 UAV has a wingspan of 15 m, a mass of 970 kg, and a payload of 300 kg. It reaches a maximum flight ceiling of 9,100 m and can be on duty continuously for more than 30 hours. The plane can reach a maximum speed of 220 km/h but usually only cruises at 110 km/h. Each unit has a factory price of about 6 million USD.

The aircraft can carry optical-electrical and infrared sensors, synthetic aperture radar capable of detecting moving targets, electronic intelligence and communications equipment, and electronic warfare complexes. This technical and tactical feature makes the Hermes 900 classified as a UAV operating at medium altitude and with long-range reserve (MALE).

Hermes 900 began actual combat in 2015 and achieved full combat readiness a year later, taking on many tasks in the army of Israel and many other countries. UAVs can carry guided weapons but mainly carry out reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering operations.

Dr. Yehoshua Kalisky, the senior expert at the Israel Institute for National Security Studies, said that Hermes possesses many superior features compared to its predecessor but is still significantly limited in speed, load and capacity. Operating altitude, making it vulnerable to modern air defense systems.

“The Hermes 900 flies slowly and has no defense measures, so being shot down is unsurprising. Equipping a missile defense system will significantly increase the aircraft’s weight, reducing its time in the air. However, however, it is necessary to consider the option of equipping radar jammers and decoys to limit the risk of being shot down,” he said.

Hezbollah was previously believed only to possess low-altitude air defense capabilities, the mainstays being 23mm automatic guns and shoulder-fired missiles, which cannot reach the operating altitude of the Hermes 900.

However, that changed when the force began deploying Saqr 358 air defense missiles developed by Iran and shot down a Hermes 450 late last year. The Israeli military announced that the UAV fell due to being hit by debris from a friendly missile that was intercepting Hezbollah weapons, while the Lebanese militia group released images showing the missile rushing straight into the aircraft.

The parameters of the Saqr 358 missile have never been announced, but actual combat results show that it can shoot down targets previously out of reach of Hezbollah.

Fabian Hinz, an expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said that Hezbollah is also likely to have received Buk-M2 air defense missiles and Pantsir-S1 from Iran and Syria.

“These complexes can hit targets at an altitude of up to 25 km from a distance of 35-50 km. Hezbollah has never claimed to possess such weapons, but if it becomes a reality, they will possess the ability to threaten most UAVs and aircraft currently used by Israel,” he warned.