The United Nations is flying Hermes 900 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Mali in support of its Minusma mission.
The aircraft are built by Israel’s Elbit but are being operated by Thales United Kingdom, according to IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, which reported that Minusma signed a contract with Thales in December 2015 to operate Hermes 900s for three years with an option for a further two years.
The contract covers the deployment of three aircraft (two for operational duties, the third as a spare) with two control stations and flight crews to enable the simultaneous use of both aircraft, Jane’s reported. The aircraft are being flown from Timbuktu airport in Mali.
The Hermes 900 is the first medium-altitude, long endurance (MALE) UAV to be flown in support of United Nations missions.
A Swedish UN contingent has deployed the Textron Unmanned Systems Shadow 200 UAV and AeroVironment Puma AE and Wasp small UAVs in support of Minusma. This deployment reached full operational capability in May last year and is due to continue operating until 2017.
Due to the Shadow’s short 125 range and the need for greater payload, the United Nations last year began seeking a larger UAV to operate in the northern part of Mali. Qinetiq offered the Israel Aerospace Industries Heron and Thales the Hermes.
The Hermes 900 has a 15 metre wingspan and 1 180 kg maximum takeoff weight. It can fly up to 30 000 feet and has an endurance of between 30 and 36 hours. Its 350 kg payload is almost double that of its predecessor, the Hermes 450. The aircraft can take off and land automatically from runways, including those without instruments. It features items like air traffic control radio, radio relay, identification friend or foe transponder and optional satellite communications for extended range.
Payloads can include electro-optical/infrared/laser, the T-200 synthetic aperture radar/ground moving target indicator, DCoMPASS surveillance and targeting turret, AES 201V electronic support measures/electronic intelligence system, Skyfix/Skyjam communications intelligence/direction finding and Comjam jamming system or communications relay system.
The Hermes 900 first flew in 2009 and has been bought by Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Switzerland, Mexico and Israel.
Another large UAV will be joining the Hermes, with Germany to field Heron I aircraft in Mali. Last month the German Defence Procurement Agency (BAAInBw) and Airbus Defence and Space signed a contract to provide Heron I UAVs to support the Bundeswehr mission in Mali from November 2016 until February 2018. From July this year the Bundeswehr took over responsibility for the intelligence unit in Mali from the Netherlands.