The Israel Air Force will boost its intelligence-gathering capabilities by the end of the year as it moves forward with plans to begin operating the Heron TP, Israel’s largest unmanned aerial vehicle, capable of flying as far as Iran.

The IAF established its first squadron of the Heron TP – manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries – last year and until now has been in the process of learning how to operate it and writing the operational doctrine.

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The Heron TP is the largest UAV in the IAF. It has a 26- meter-long wingspan – the size of a Boeing 737 – and can stay airborne for up to 45 hours. It can carry 1,000 kg. in payloads, making it capable of conducting a wide variety of missions.

According to foreign reports, it has the ability to also launch missiles, and in Israel it is often referred to as the UAV “that can reach Iran.”

In July, France announced its decision to purchase the Heron TP in the first export deal for the UAV. The deal is estimated to reach close to $500 million over a number of years and could lead to additional contracts for Israel Aerospace Industries as other countries, such as Germany, seek to upgrade their UAV capabilities.

The IAF’s use of drones has dramatically increased in recent years and they are used on different fronts – in Lebanon, along the Egyptian border, in the Gaza Strip and off of Israel’s coast to protect natural gas installations.

Earlier this year, the IAF decided to establish a new UAV squadron made up of Heron 1 and Hermes 900 UAVs, which according to foreign reports is capable of firing missiles.

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