IAF inaugurates new squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles; can fly higher, stay in air longer, carry larger payload than predecessors.
By YAAKOV KATZ
The IAF will inaugurate a new squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles in the coming months, in an effort to boost its intelligence-gathering capabilities.The squadron will operate the Heron, made by Israel Aerospace Industries, which is capable of remaining in the air for two days without refueling. By comparison, a previous UAV used by the IAF, the Searcher Mk. II, can only remain airborne for 12 hours.RELATED:Elbit Systems unit wins British Army UAV dealIAI presents new Panther UAVThe Heron can fly at altitudes of 30,000 feet, making it a difficult target for standard anti-aircraft weapons.It has the ability to carry a 250 kg. payload, compared to 100 kg. for the Searcher.The Heron has a wingspan of 16.6 m. and weighs 1,200 kg., with an operation range of hundreds of kilometers – and the ability to fly in all weather conditions, during the day and night.The new squadron will be a drone unit operated by the IAF.AdvertisementLate last month, the air force launched the squadron – which operates the Heron TP, one of the largest UAV’s in the world – which is also made by Israel Aerospace Industries, and has a wingspan of 26 m.The IAF’s other squadrons operate the Heron, as well as Elbit Systems’s Hermes 450.In recent years, UAVs have played a dominant role in IAF operations on various fronts – primarily in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip – and account for a quarter of the IAF’s overall flight hours.The drones are frequently used for reconnaissance and surveillance. According to foreign news reports, some of the UAVs used by the IAF also have the ability to fire air-to-surface missiles.Israel Aerospace Industries is a world leader in the development of UAVs, and a number of NATO countries currently operate its systems in Afghanistan and Iraq.Last week, the Singapore press reported that the Asian island country was operating IAI’s Searcher UAV in Afghanistan.According to the report, the Singaporean troops were operating four Searcher UAV systems in Afghanistan.