Germany’s Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) has signed a renewed service contract agreement with Airbus Defence and Space for Heron I unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) services in operation in Afghanistan and Mali.
Airbus on 9 July said in Mali, Heron I services have been extended for the period August 2020 to July 2021 (with an option for August 2021 to July 2022). The system’s first flight in Mali dates back to 1 November 2016 after the first service contract was signed in July 2016. They type has logged more than 11 500 flight hours in over 1 200 operational flights in Mali.
In Afghanistan, Heron I services have been extended to cover June 2020 to May 2021. In Afghanistan, the Heron has logged more than 46 000 flight hours in over 4 100 operational flights. Also in March this year, the German Air Force passed the milestone of 10 years of Heron I operations in Afghanistan, with a first operational flight dating back to 17 March 2010.
When adding the Heron I’s operations for the German Armed Forces in both Afghanistan and Mali, the Air Force’s UAV has accumulated more than 57 500 successful operational flight hours, Airbus said.
Both areas of deployment are being managed using a joint operator model between the Bundeswehr and industry. The Heron I’s provision, maintenance and repair of the system is the responsibility of Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen.
“This operator model impressively demonstrated its performance capabilities during operations in Afghanistan and Mali, as emphasised by proven high system readiness of 99%. The deployments of the Heron system in Afghanistan and Mali also help develop expertise within the Bundeswehr with a view to future medium-altitude, long endurance remotely piloted aerial systems,” Airbus said.
Manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries, the Heron I is an unarmed medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV. It has a wingspan of 16.6 meters and a maximum mission endurance of over 24 hours. The system’s military tasks include detecting booby traps from the air, accompanying convoys and patrols, assisting forces in combat situations, reconnoitring and surveilling routes, establishing movement profiles and long-term monitoring, supporting situation assessments, and protecting property and military camps. It is also used to support humanitarian missions.
The Heron I systems deployed by the German Armed Forces in Afghanistan and Mali are to be replaced by the more powerful IAI Heron TP, following an operator agreement signed in Berlin in July 2018 between Airbus Defence and Space and the BAAINBw. The replacement of the Heron I by the Heron TP will have a two-year set-up phase, followed by an operational phase lasting a further seven years, thereby bridging the gap until a sovereign European MALE UAV will be developed.