It plays a vital role in IDF operations in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, and for the past month the Israeli-made Heron unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has also been used in combating South American drug runners in El Salvador. On Friday, the United States Southern Command announced that together with the Salvadoran Military it had completed a month-long evaluation of the Heron UAV, designed and manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The UAV was evaluated to judge its suitability for counter-drug missions in South America and the Pacific. It was the first time that the drone, designed for intelligence gathering and surveillance, was used in counter-drug operations. The Heron, which already flies missions in Afghanistan on behalf of the Canadian military, arrived in El Salvador in late April and flew more than 10 missions, including more than 100 hours in direct support of counter-drug surveillance along Central America's Pacific coast. The Heron is capable of remaining in the air close to two days straight without refueling. It can 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. "We believe that in the course of conducting this evaluation, we were able to gather enough observations to determine that unmanned aircraft systems indeed have a positive future in supporting counter drug operations," said US Navy Cmdr. Kevin Quarderer, one of the leaders of the project.