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Arie Egozi

The growing operational requirements from the Israeli Air Force (IAF) are resulting in an effort to increase the capabilities of the force’s UAV fleet, the largest and most advanced model in which is the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) HERON-TP. This Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV, which has a max take-off weight 11.904 pounds and a wing span of 87 feet, is currently performing a long list of missions, many of which have been performed until some years ago by manned aircraft.

Increased importance

In 2019, 80 per cent of the total IAF flight hours were accumulated by different types of UAV and sources have told ESD that this year, the number will be even higher. In recent years, the number of HERON-TPs has grown and some have a greater max takeoff weight to allow for the use of advanced sensors and more fuel to increase endurance. The new version also includes an Israeli developed navigation system in addition to an automatic takeoff and landing system, which allows operations in bad weather conditions.

The increase in the number of HERON-TP UAVs, operated by 210 “White Eagle “Squadron from Tel-Nof IAF base, is part of the IAF’s master plan to build the force’s UAV arsenal in the coming 15 years. According to squadron officers, the turnaround of the HERON-TP is very short and after landing, it is ready for another mission in a very short time.

“We have these UAVs over areas of interest continuously and their payloads supply the needed data using the very advance payloads” a source told ESD.

The performance of the Heron-TP is also based on the very advanced ground station which  is manned by two, a mission commander and the payload operator, with each sitting in front of screens and joy sticks. While the Heron TP is the “Queen” of the IAF’s UAV fleet, IAI is in the middle of a development effort to increase the speed of some of its UAV that perform maritime missions as the Israeli Navy, like many around the world, is transferring these missions from manned aircraft to UAVs.

Speeding up

“When a UAV is on a maritime patrol mission, speed is essential. Something suspicious is detected some distance from the shore or crucial installation and you want to be able to investigate it as soon as possible, at least in the speed offered by manned maritime mission aircraft ” said Avi Bleser VP marketing & sales of IAI military aircraft group.

The IAF decided some years ago to phase out its B-200 maritime patrol aircraft that have been operated jointly with the navy, after which, a decision was made to transfer all the missions of this platform to the HERON-1 and HERON-TP UAVs. Based on the strategic capabilities of the latter, the IAF commander recently decided to multiply the number of UAVs that 210 squadron operates. To perform the missions of the manned reconnaissance aircraft, the HERON-TP is being equipped with new sensors and new communication systems, while new UAV’s are now in the development phases and will enter service in the coming years.

The speed increase will involve using engines with higher thrust and decreasing the UAV drag. Currently, the maximum speed of the HERON-1 is approximately 120 knots compared to around 220 knots for the HERON-TP while the P8 POSEIDON Maritime Patrol Aircraft can reach 490 knots.