It can fly 1,000 kilometers and stay in the air for 20 hours without refueling, hover at 9,144 meters (30,000 feet) and provide high-definition radar and visual images of targets spanning hundreds of kilometers.
These are the capabilities of Israel Aerospace Industries’ Maritime Heron drone, a hitech pilotless aircraft that is already in service in the Israel Air Force, the Israel Navy and the armed forces of several other countries.
IAI provided a demonstration of the drone near Hadera on Sunday, a week before it is due to be showcased at the Euronaval defense conference in Paris. In doing so, the IAI also provided a sneak preview of some of the drone technologies that are employed to safeguard Israel, during a time when Iran and Hezbollah are trying to compete in the unmanned aerial vehicle battleground, and shortly after they sent their own drone into Israel.
The Heron 1, which according to foreign sources can also be fitted with missile payloads, plays an important role in Israel’s naval surface warfare strategy and would be sent to identify any suspicious maritime traffic.
The drone will likely play a key part in securing Israeli gas drilling rigs that will soon be set up in the country’s territorial waters.
Hezbollah has in the past threatened to target the rigs.
The Heron can zoom in on a ship and see its flag from an altitude of 1,524 meters (5,000 feet) – and in fact, did just that on its demonstration flight on Sunday, beaming the images in real-time to a control center. In this case, the ship was an innocent tanker approaching an Israeli port.
Weighing 1,200 kilos, the Heron is the “younger brother” of the Heron Eitan, a 5,000-kilogram, Boeing 737- sized drone, which can fly all the way to Iran and back, and is not on sale to foreign militaries.
Heron 1 carries a wide scope of hi-tech payloads, including a radar that displayed dozens of naval and aerial vessels between the Turkish and Egyptian coastlines during the demonstration.
The Heron can also eavesdrop on enemy radio traffic and comb its surroundings for suspicious communications, which can then be decrypted.
It is fitted with means for satellite communication to allow it to travel far from its point of origin.
During Sunday’s demonstration, airborne targets were marked with white flags on the radar map.
In the future, Hezbollah drones flying toward a gas drilling rig in the Mediterranean Sea might activate the same symbol on the map.