Israel Aerospace Industry's Heron TP drone.
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
Two German Air Force pilots are in Israel to train on the Heron TP at the Tel Nof Airbase outside Tel Aviv, before operating the advanced drone in Mali.
The German pair – one pilot and one sensor operator – are here for an eight-week training course which began in late January to learn the surveillance capabilities of the drone, which is built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Defense News reported.
Thirty-five two-person teams are scheduled to undergo training at a special compound within Tel Nof over the course of the next two years.
German Air Force Col. Kristof Conrath, whose squadron will operate the Heron TP, was quoted by Defense News as calling the beginning of the training program “another milestone” in German-Israeli air force cooperation.
“Our Israeli partners have far-reaching expertise in this area, and the necessary airspace environment. That’s what we are getting out of this,” he said.
The Heron TPs are IAI’s most advanced UAVs, with a 40-hour endurance, maximum take-off weight of 5,670 kg. (12,500 lbs.) and a payload of 2,700 kg. (5,950 lbs.) They can be used for both reconnaissance as well as combat and support roles, and can carry air-to-ground missiles to take out hostile targets.
The use of armed UAVs is a politically divisive issue in Germany and the Bundestag – the country’s federal parliament – has yet to decide whether or not to arm them with missiles. The German Defense Ministry has stated that missiles would only be used in the event of immediate danger to troops.
Last year, lawmakers in the Bundestag’s budget committee approved a military deal worth close to a billion dollars to lease five Heron TP Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) RPASs
(Remotely Piloted Air-vehicle Systems) for surveillance and possibly armed missions to support troops deployed to Mali and Afghanistan.
French and Malian forces drove al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other terrorist groups out of Timbuktu over five years ago, leading the terrorists to establish a base of operations in the vast arid north of the country bordering Mauritania and Algeria.
Since 2010, the German Air Force has been operating the Herons in Afghanistan, where they were involved in thousands of missions. According to a statement by IAI, forces in Afghanistan and Mali have logged over 38,000 flight hours since 2016.
Following the signing of the deal, Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen stated that the decision marks “an important signal” to the German army, since the UAVs could deliver images with better resolution, fly longer distances and provide the army with intelligence capabilities and support for its missions around the world.
According to foreign media reports, Israel is considered a leading exporter of drones, with IAI and Elbit selling UAVs to countries including Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Mexico and Singapore.
IAI has over 30 clients from around the globe, including Germany, Australia and South Korea.
In 2009, IAI delivered Heron-1 systems to the German Air Force that became operational six months later and have since been used extensively in collaboration with Airbus, which handles upkeep of the drones.
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