It plays a vital role in IDF operations in the Gaza Strip and in southern Lebanon, and in February the Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) will make its debut in Afghanistan as the main surveillance drone for the Canadian Armed Forces, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Last month, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) supplied a number of Heron UAVs to the Canadian military for operations in Afghanistan. The Heron will replace a small French-built UAV that Canada has been operating in Afghanistan for several years. The Heron was supplied to Canada under a $95 million contract signed in August. Canadian forces are currently committed to participating in operations in Afghanistan until 2011. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently called on Canada to extend its commitment due to the success NATO forces have had in the troubled region of Kandahar. The Heron is capable of remaining in the air close to two days straight without refueling. In comparison, the UAV used before by the IAF - called the Searcher Mk II - can only remain in flight for 12 hours straight. The Heron can also fly at an altitude of 30,000 feet, making it a difficult target for standard anti-aircraft weapons. It has the ability to carry a 250 kg payload, in comparison to the 100 kg the Searcher is able to hold. The Heron has a wingspan of 16.6 meters and weighs 1,200 kilograms, with an operational range of hundreds of kilometers and the ability to fly in all weather conditions, as well as during the day and at night. With the delivery of the Heron, IAI is hoping to secure another contract with the Canadians, valued at $750 million and called "Project Justas" (Joint Unmanned Surveillance Target Acquisition System). A few months ago, the Canadian government published a letter of interest seeking feedback from defense industry companies on potential platforms to provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition. IAI is offering the Heron TP, an upgraded version of the UAV already supplied to Canada. The Heron TP is the largest Israeli UAV, with a 26-meter long wingspan, the same length as a Boeing 737. It weighs 4,650 kilograms and can fly at an altitude of up to 45,000 feet. According to reports in the Canadian press, the Heron TP also possesses a lethal-strike capability.