Apr 25, 2015
Hizbullah airstrip for UAVsrevealed in Lebanon
Located in a remote and sparsely populated area 10 km south of the town of Hermel and 18 km west of the Syrian border, the airstrip was built sometime between 27 February 2013 and 19 June 2014.
It consists of a single unpaved strip with a length of 670 m and width of 20 m. Material has been excavated from a nearby quarry to build up the northern end of the strip so that it is level. It is built over a shorter strip that had been in existence since at least 2010.
The short length of the runway suggests the facility is not intended to smuggle in weapons shipments from Syria or Iran as it is too short for nearly all the transport aircraft used by the air forces of those countries. One exception could be the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC's) An-74T-200 short take-off transports, but landing one with a useful load on a 670 m strip in the mountains would be considered dangerous by most operators.
An alternative explanation is that the runway was built for Iranian-made UAVs, including the Ababil-3, which has been employed over Syria by forces allied to the Syrian regime, and possibly the newer and larger Shahed-129.
Hizbullah has confirmed that the organisation is using UAVs to support operations against rebel forces in Syria.
An antenna is located on a hill 430 m south of the strip and linked by a track. While this looks like a standard Lebanese mobile telephone tower, it could potentially be used to extend the range of a UAV ground control station.
Hizbullah has operated UAVs from Lebanese airspace since at least November 2004, when it dispatched one that it identified as a Mirsad-1 for a brief reconnaissance mission over northern Israel. It then flew attempted to fly at least three UAVs into Israel during the July-August 2006 war.
Hizbullah said it was responsible for the UAV that was shot down over southern Israel on 6 October 2012. It said it used an Iranian-made aircraft that it had designated as the Ayoub for the incursion.
Iranian UAVs have been spotted on numerous occasions in Syrian airspace, mainly the Ababil-3 variant, but also the smaller Yasir-type.