Australia’s Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) detachment in Afghanistan flew its final mission for Operation SLIPPER from Kandahar Air Field on 30 November 2014.
Heron aircraft have completed more than 27,000 mission hours during Operation SLIPPER providing high resolution intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to Australian forces and our International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) partners in southern Afghanistan since August 2009.
Heron Rotation 15 Commanding Officer, Wing Commander (WGCDR) Phillip Parsons said Australian personnel had forged a strong reputation for professionalism and dependability over the past five years.
“The personnel on Rotation 15 continued the highly professional work of the rotations that have gone before them,” WGCDR Parsons said.
“The Australian Heron capability forged a fine reputation among our American and other Coalition partners here in ISAF as a result of our can-do attitude and the capabilities of this aircraft.
“From Heron’s first days supporting the Special Operations Task Group through to the end of Australia’s mission in Uruzgan province last year and support to ISAF units throughout 2014, Heron has provided commanders on the ground with information they needed to fight and keep their people safe.”
Wing Commander Phillip Parsons said the Heron personnel had excelled in their role in Afghanistan.
“Sometimes we were the only Remotely Piloted Aircraft flying in this region and we’d often be called upon to get overhead and provide information back to Coalition partners.”
Chief of Joint Operations, Vice Admiral (VADM) David Johnston, said the Heron teams had made a significant contribution to Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.
“This final flight marks the end of a dedicated and well-executed mission that has been pivotal in keeping our personnel safe, minimising the risk to civilians on the ground and achieving our Operation SLIPPER mission,” VADM Johnston said.
“Defence personnel from all services who have deployed with Heron can hold their heads high for further developing the capability of the ADF to employ the RPA, while forging and maintaining a strong reputation for professionalism among the ADF as well as with our international partners.”
Three Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft were based at Kandahar Air Field and operated in southern Afghanistan.
Approximately 490 Air Force, Navy and Army personnel deployed with the Heron detachment during its 15 rotations.
Following the conclusion of Australia’s mission in Uruzgan in December 2013, the Heron mission was extended to support ISAF members in Regional Command – South, including support to the 2014 Afghan presidential election.
Heron is Air Force’s first unmanned aerial system and notably, entered service directly into Afghanistan after Air Force and Army personnel undertook training in Canada in July 2009.
All Heron detachment personnel will return to Australia by the end of December 2014.
Australia is committed to supporting security and stability in Afghanistan beyond 2014 through cooperation in security, diplomatic and development channels, and continuing to build the capacity of Afghanistan’s national institutions.
Australia has pledged to contribute to the post-2014 NATO-led ‘train, advise, assist’ mission and our current contribution provides a good foundation for Australia’s post‑2014 commitment.