More than two years after it declared an “urgent” need to operate the large IAI Heron TP turboprop UAV, Germany has finally concluded a service contract with Airbus Defence and Space. The company has been operating smaller IAI Heron 1 UAVs for the German armed forces over Afghanistan and Mali. This is the first known export of the Heron TP, which has been in Israeli Air Force service since 2010.
Airbus D & S said that the contractual model will be based on the existing Heron 1 agreement, with the company ensuring system performance, flight hours, and availability. But one notable difference is that the Heron TPs will be capable of carrying weapons. They will carry the same imaging EO/IR and radar sensors as those flying in Israel. Satellite communication systems and German data and voice encryption systems are also part of the configuration.
The Heron TP system will get military certification from the German armed forces aviation authority in accordance with NATO STANAG 4671, according to Airbus D & S, allowing the system to be used around the world. This is supplemented by the integration of collision avoidance capabilities. The aircraft also carries a weather-avoidance radar.
The German armed forces have been using the Heron 1 over Afghanistan since 2010. In 2016, a second operation was set up in Mali to support German troops deployed to the United Nations mission there. The two deployments have logged a total of 35,000 flight hours.
Neither IAI nor the Israeli Air Force has revealed how many Heron TPs have entered service, but IAI said last February that more were being produced for the IAF with “new capabilities.” Five aircraft and four ground stations are being acquired for Germany.
Airbus D & S was careful to specify the timescale: a two-year set-up phase, followed by an operational phase lasting a further seven years, “thereby bridging the gap until a sovereign European drone will be developed.” At the Berlin Airshow last April, Airbus, Dassault, and Leonardo unveiled a full-scale model of their proposed European medium-altitude long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft system (Euro-MALE RPAS).