A new Israeli military drone actually looks like a tiny X-Wing

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has unveiled its X-Wing looking "Point Blank" loitering munition drone for the U.S. military.
Christopher McFadden
Point Blank drone flying through the sky
Point Blank in action

IAI  

A multi-million dollar, multi-year contract between the U.S. Department of Defense and Israel says that Israel will make and use new hand-launched and recoverable loitering munitions. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), owned by the government, will make "Point Blank," a drone that can take off and land vertically like a missile.

What's more, it even resembles a tiny X-wing. What's not to like?

A press release says that Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will make "ROC-X" prototypes of "Point Blank" and ship them to the U.S. ROC-X will be DOD-compliant. IAI got the contract from the Pentagon's Irregular Warfare Technical Support Directorate (IWTSD), which looks into new ways of helping special operations forces do their jobs.

With the contract announcement, IAI showed Point Blank, an "electro-optically guided missile that can be carried in a soldier's backpack." This missile can be recovered and used again. More than a missile, the Point Blank system looks more like a loitering bomb or "kamikaze" drone.

“Point Blank joins Israel Aerospace Industries’ family of missiles to provide ground-based tactical forces with more precise capabilities to undertake offensive operations, especially against short-lived targets,” Guy Bar-Lev, executive vice president for IAI’s Systems, Missiles, and Space Group, was quoted as saying in the press release.

“We wish to thank the IWTSD for its support and cooperation in the field of precision munitions, confirming, yet again, the importance of tactical missiles to the modern army," he added.

The hand-launched Point Blank is small enough for one soldier to operate. IAI claims the munition is 15 pounds (6.8 kg) and 3 feet (0.91 meters) long. It can fly over 1,500 feet (457 meters) for 18 minutes and achieve 178 mph (286 kph). Point Blank will also be VTOL-capable.

IAI believes Point Blank, like loitering bombs, will hover above a target while the operator chooses how to engage. Point Blank will also have an "abort option" for autonomous return and landing, allowing the user to launch and land the drone in the same hand.

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The company brochure also indicates that Point Blank's Circular Error Probability, which analyses the radius of a circle to compute the average distance between the target and the munition's flight path, is less than one meter, corroborating IAI's claims of excellent accuracy. IAI applies this to stationary and moving targets.

According to the literature, Point Blank can even do "stealth operations" because of its minimal acoustic and thermal trace.

IAI says that Point Blank will use a hybrid electro-optical (EO) and global positioning system (GPS) guidance system to "verify and collect surveillance information in real-time." IAI's Point Blank website says the munition's Ground Data Link Terminal can integrate into any mobile network data link to provide data back to the unit.

The drone can be operative-controlled or autonomous

Point Blank can fly both by hand and on its own. It also has EO-based operator-in-the-loop control, invented by Israeli defense industries. Most loitering weapons use this to make them more accurate and safe by letting them change their course until they hit their target. It would also hit set targets autonomously.

Point Blank was made so tactical teams and battalions on the ground could have a portable and accurate way to shoot at multiple targets, including naval domains.

The business says Point Blank is "being developed to be equipped” with a 4.4-pound (2 kg) warhead with an impact/proximity fuze for target proximity sensing and point detonation. IAI calls this the "attack mode" of Point Blank. On the other hand, the "reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition" (RSTA) mode only uses the cameras.

The IWTSD told The War Zone that IAI will send the DOD RSTA, assault, or both configurations.

“As the [press release] states,” said IWTSD staff, “ROC-X is the version of Point Blank that Israel IAI is developing for IWTSD. Israel IAI will develop the initial ROC-X platform for [RSTA]. IWTSD should receive 10 Point Blank ROC-X versions this summer for operational test and evaluation by [Special Operations Forces]. However, a lethal variant of ROC-X has to be Americanized, which means integrating the lethal package and conducting safety testing in the U.S. This project phase should begin later this year."

IAI will deliver 10 RSTA-configured ROC-X Point Blank prototypes and operator training in FY2023.

Israeli drone-like assault and surveillance capabilities will grow with Point Blank. Recently, local companies like IAI and Elbit Equipment have been producing systems like this to aid smaller ground forces in situational awareness and attack. In November, Elbit introduced LANIUS, a fist-sized search-and-attack loitering munition for urban warfare.

This system is different from other soldier-launched loitering munitions systems because it is easy to launch and recover. It also works better than other systems. Beyond that, the device is another reminder that aerial surveillance and precise bombardment are being "democratized" down to the squad and even individual soldier level with increased ease of use and capabilities.