The Canadian, French, German and Australian air forces and the Spanish army have all chosen to employ Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to support their troops fighting in Afghanistan.

The Canadian and the French air forces have both utilized IAI’s Heron UAS, while the Spanish army uses IAI’s Searcher III UAS. In addition, the Heron UAS will be operational with the German and Australian air forces in the coming months.

The troops in Afghanistan rely heavily on these UASs, as they provide crucial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) information in real-time to commanders and directly to front line soldiers.

The Heron is a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAS for strategic and tactical missions. With a wingspan of 16.6 meters and a takeoff weight of 1,250 kg, the Heron UAV can reach an altitude of 30,000 feet and has the endurance of up to 50 hours (pending on the mission and payload configuration).

Heron’s size has far-reaching significance in terms of its ability to carry a wide variety of sensors, which can provide real-time information over a wide area for an extended period. The Heron has a low acoustic signature, making it difficult to detect.

In August 2008, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) of Richmond, B.C. Canada was awarded a $95 million (CAD) contract for a long endurance UAV surveillance solution to support the Canadian forces in Afghanistan. IAI’s MALAT Division, as the major subcontractor, supplied the Heron UAS for this critical service. The platform and equipment are built at IAI’s facilities in Israel, while management, training, and in-theater maintenance for the Canadian operators is the responsibility of the Canadian prime contractor, MDA.

The French Air Force has put the Heron, known in France as Systeme Interimaire de Drone MALE (SIDM), into operational use with European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS) acting as a prime contractor and IAI as subcontractor. The French MALE UAV performed its maiden flight in Afghanistan on February 17, 2009. The SIDM provides the French forces with up to 20 hours of surveillance capability per mission. It carries electro optical sensors, a laser designator, and a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) with ground moving target indicator (GMTI) capability.

December 2009 marked the first delivery of the Heron Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) to the Canadian company MDA, and to the customer, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The Australian Department of Defense (DOD) had awarded a contract to MDA to supply Heron systems to Australia for operations by the RAAF in Afghanistan for ISR missions as part of Project NANKEEN. The Heron was chosen from among a number of UAS competitors, after successfully completing a series of tests, for its ISR capabilities. The Heron system will start operations with the RAAF in early 2010 for one year, with the option to extend for an additional two years.

Rheinmetall Defence and the German Federal Office of Defense Technology and Procurement signed a service provider contract in October of 2009 to provide the German Bundeswehr with ISR capabilities through the deployment of a UAV system. Under the current multimillion-euro contract, the Bundeswehr will lease the UAV system for one year with an option for a two year extension. Flight operations will commence by mid March 2010.

Compared to UAV systems currently in service with the Bundeswehr, the UAS to be deployed is capable of covering a substantially larger footprint, while its high-performance sensors can provide reconnaissance data, even under severe weather conditions. Rheinmetall Defence and IAI will provide IAI’s Heron MALE UAV system, including full in-theatre logistical and maintenance services performed by Rheinmetall Defence. Missions of the UAV system will be performed and controlled by Bundeswehr personnel.

In 2007, IAI, together with the Spanish companies INDRA and EADS-CASA, won a tender published by the Spanish Ministry of Defense for a tactical UAS for the Spanish Army. The system was delivered early 2008 and immediately deployed in Afghanistan. Since then it has been in continuous and successful use by the Spanish Army for ISR missions using a high performance day & night E/O payload.

Israel Aerospace Industries is Israel’s leading technological-industrial company, with approximately 17,400 employees. IAI has gained worldwide recognition as a leading developer of aviation and aerospace technology in both military and civilian markets.

IAI provides the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and its foreign customers with unique, high-quality technological solutions that meet a wide range of needs on the ground, in the sea, in the air, in space and in the field of homeland security. IAI is a world leader in a wide range of advanced technologies, including the development, production, renovation, upgrading, repair and maintenance of aircraft, missiles, launchers, communications satellites, observation satellites and ground services, electronic systems, avionics systems, advanced radar, precision-guided munitions, and unmanned aerial vehicles.