German Herons fully operational in Mali


German Heron I unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are now fully operational in Mali where they are deployed to support the United Nations’ MINUSMA mission there.

The Bundeswehr on 21 February said it took the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) just six months to get the aircraft fully operational in Mali.

In late April 2016 BAAINBw in Koblenz was instructed by the Federal Ministry of Defence to proceed with the deployment and in mid-July the contract was signed. In September first transport of equipment began – around 120 containers, each weighing up to 11 tons, were deployed to Mali by sea, air and land transport.

In October the Heron flew, with the first operational mission taking place on 1 November from Gao airport. On 1 February 2017, the United Nations was informed of the “Full Operational Capability” of the system.

The Bundeswehr already gained positive experience with the Heron in Afghanistan, where Heron I had completed more than 30 000 flight hours by the end of 2016.

Thanks to Heron I, the potential reconnaissance radius of the German MINUSMA forces increased more than tenfold, from formerly 80 to now up to 900 kilometres, the Bundeswehr said. The aircraft is fitted with optical and infrared sensors but a radar can be retrofitted, if required.

Similar to the operator model for the Heron I in Afghanistan (where the UAVs have flown over 2 300 missions), Airbus Defence and Space Airborne Solutions GmbH (ADAS) is responsible for the provision, maintenance and overhaul of the system in Mali. The aircraft are leased from their manufacturer Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

The deployment of the Heron I in Mali is planned initially until February 2018.

The Heron I has a wingspan of seventeen meters and has a maximum mission endurance of more than twenty-four hours and range of up to 800 kilometres. Military tasks include tracking down explosives from the air, assist in convoying and patrolling, providing reconnaissance to ground forces in combat situations, exploration of tracks, creating movement profiles and long-term monitoring, support for situation assessment as well as camp and force protection.

As from 1 July 2016 the Bundeswehr took over responsibility for the intelligence unit in Mali from the Netherlands.

The extension of the Heron I operational model is paving the way for the next generation Heron TP, which has been selected by the German Bundeswehr Chief of Staff to succeed the Heron I and bridge the timeframe until a European drone development will be available.