An Israeli soldier from the Sky Rider Unit launches a Skylark mini-Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) during a demonstration close to the border with Gaza. 

Sky Rider units are part of the artillery brigade and operate on the ground either independently or with other infantry soldiers to provide real-time video from the battlefield. The Israeli military began using the Skylark system in 2008 but it was not deployed extensively until Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. 

The Sky Rider unit lives with the infantry soldiers they serve with and support during their missions, unlike pilots in the Israeli Air Force (IAF) who fly larger drones and are stationed on bases far away from where the drones fly.

The drone is built by the Israeli company Elbit Systems. It weighs around 7 kilograms and can stay in the air for up to 3 hours. It’s used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
An Israeli soldier from the Sky Rider Unit launches a Skylark mini-Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) during a demonstration close to the border with Gaza. Sky Rider units provide real-time video from the battlefield.Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper
An Israeli soldier from the Sky Rider Unit launches a Skylark mini-Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) during a demonstration close to the border with Gaza. 

Sky Rider units are part of the artillery brigade and operate on the ground either independently or with other infantry soldiers to provide real-time video from the battlefield. The Israeli military began using the Skylark system in 2008 but it was not deployed extensively until Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. 

The Sky Rider unit lives with the infantry soldiers they serve with and support during their missions, unlike pilots in the Israeli Air Force (IAF) who fly larger drones and are stationed on bases far away from where the drones fly.

The drone is built by the Israeli company Elbit Systems. It weighs around 7 kilograms and can stay in the air for up to 3 hours. It’s used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
A small trailer used as a clubhouse by soldiers in the Sky Rider unit, on an Israeli military base next to the Erez Crossing on, the border with Gaza. 

An employee working at the Aeronautics factory in Yavne, Israel.
The Orbiter mini UAV inside the Aeronautics Defense Systems factory in Yavne, Israel. This highly autonomous UAV can locate and track moving targets while piloting itself along a patrol route. The Orbiter is flown by military forces in over 30 countries including Mexico, Ireland, and Poland.

The company displayed a new version of the Orbiter at the Paris Air show this past June   that includes 2.2kg warhead - turning the system into a loitering munition - essentially a kamikaze drone. These types of drones can remain above a target longer than any cruise missile and are also recoverable if the strike is aborted. The drone’s warhead is designed to detonate above a target showering an area 50 meters in diameter with shrapnel.
Employees working on airframe components inside the Aeronautics factory in Yavne, Israel. 

The bodies of modern UAV’s are mostly made up of composite materials. At the Aeronautics factory, workers employ a series of labor-intensive processes in which thin sheets of composite materials are combined to create solid pieces of the drone’s airframe.
A group of Micro-STAMP imaging payloads, made by Controp, on a worktable at the company’s factory outside of Petah-Tikva, Israel. Each unit has a color video camera as well as an infrared thermal imaging camera that can see at night or through thick cloud cover and fog. The imaging paylaod is one of th emost important parts of a UAV.
A storage area inside the Aeronautics factory in Yavne, Israel.
Ground control stations, used to pilot larger UAV’s, at IAI’s main facility, near Ben Gurion Airport, Israel. These portable systems, built inside of unassuming shipping containers, are used to remotely command UAV’s.
A joystick control for manually piloting a UAV inside of a ground control station at the Aeronautics factory in Yavne, Israel.
A screen grab of test footage from an infrared camera provided by Controp.
Inside a hangar at Israeli Aerospace Industries’s (IAI) main facility, near Ben Gurion Airport, Israel. Founded in 1953, the state-owned company is the largest aerospace and defense manufacturer in the country. IAI has produced fighter jets, missiles, and satellites for domestic and international clients and is the largest manufacturer of UAV systems in Israel.

This hangar is used as a showroom, exhibiting the many UAVs and related systems produced by the company. The small vehicle on the right is a scale-model of the Naval Rotary Unmanned Air Vehicle – a helicopter drone used for naval ISR missions.
An Israeli soldier from the Sky Rider Unit launches a Skylark mini-Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) during a demonstration c
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Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper
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Discover How Drones Are Made

Oct 23, 2015

Drones, formally called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), have become essential to military and intelligence agencies around the world. Over the past six months, photographers Vittoria Mentasti and Daniel Tepper went inside the factories, showrooms, and storage spaces that make up the core of Israel’s drone business. They provide a unique dive into an industry that is playing an increasingly pivotal role both in Israel and worldwide.

In the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles industry, drones can offer the best results in any situation. “It will be safer, it will be easier, it will be cheaper,"says Daniel Bichman, a former Israeli air force pilot and now the director of marketing at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), one of the leading companies in the production and research of UAVs. "Normally we say the three Ds: the dirty, the dull and the dangerous mission. Do it with UAVs.”

In the last 10 years the number of countries flying UAVs has more than doubled and today more than 80 countries have some sort of drone capability . UAV manufacturing is the fastest growing sector of the aerospace industry and worldwide sales of the technology over the next ten years are projected to double and total more than $90 billion .

Israeli companies have played a leading role in this market. The country is recognized as the top global exporter of UAVs – accounting for over 60% of all international sales since 1985. Israeli drone makers make the majority of their business selling their systems to foreign countries.

The U.S. was seen as having a monopoly over aerial drone technology in the years following the September 11 th attacks, but the Israeli military first developed modern UAV systems and pioneered their use as surveillance and war fighting tools.

The Israelis realized the potential military applications UAVs had in the early 1970s during Yom Kippur War with Egypt and Syria . After losing many of their planes to surface-to-air missiles, the country used Vietnam-era reconnaissance drones purchased from the U.S. to locate opposing anti-aircraft sites. The aerial drones proved to be vital assets during combat and the Israelis began to develop their own UAVs.

By the late 1970s the Israeli military was flying their own models. The simple designs of these first-generation systems: propeller driven, with lightweight glider-style airframes, would have a great influence on subsequent UAV development.

Today, the Israeli government does not comment on most of its UAV operations but various reports have shown that its Air Force uses the technology for long-range surveillance missions as well as for airstrikes over Gaza and most in other countries, in and around the Middle East.


The rapid development of UAV technology is part of a larger shift by advanced militaries around the world to employ drones to complete a variety of missions carried out by humans. This process will take soldiers off the battlefield and in some cases remove them from the chain of command - leaving decision making to artificial intelligence systems.

Neve Gordon, an Israeli political science professor, reached over the phone said that in the future there will be machines that, “…will be better equipped to distinguish between civilian and combatant, and to make the decision whether to fire or not to fire.” Moving towards the future what we will see, “is the transformation of the decision making process to the technology itself: where the soldier sitting behind the computer becomes part of the technology, rather than controls it.”

Daniel Tepper is a photographer and journalist based in New York City and the Middle East. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Vittoria Mentasti is an Italian photographer and artist. Follow her on Instagram.

Josh Raab is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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