Canada's decision, to replace its
French Sperwer UAVs with Israeli Herons and Skylarks, has upset many Canadian politicians. That's because the
military is apparently going to withdraw the Sperwer from service. Canada has
spent over a quarter billion dollars on Sperwer in the past five years, and
politicians are upset over wasted money.
The new 1.1
ton Herons can stay in the air for over 40 hours at a time and carry some 500
pounds of cameras and other sensors. According to the military, the Herons will
give Canadian troops in Afghanistan better support than the Sperwer UAVs they
had been using.
earlier bought 21 of the Sperwers, including ten second hand ones obtained from
Denmark two years ago (the Danes were unhappy with Sperwer, which should have
told the Canadians something.). France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark,
Greece and Canada had all used the
French built Sperwer UAV, which got its first heavy use during Balkan
peacekeeping missions in the 1990s. Afghanistan was another story.
Canadians used their Sperwers heavily in Afghanistan, and have paid to improve
the Sperwer flight control software, to make the UAV more stable when landing
under windy conditions. It's often windy in Afghanistan. Still, troops were
envious of superior UAV types they saw in use by other nations.
million Sperwer LE (Long Endurance) weighs 772 pounds, carries a 110 pound
payload, is 12 feet long and has an endurance of 12 hours. Sperwer can operate
up to 200 kilometers from its ground control unit. But the Sperwer uses a noisy
engine (think lawnmower) and flies low enough to be heard. This has not proved
to be a problem, as the people below, if they are Taliban, either start
shooting at the UAV, or try to run away. The Canadian troops have come to
depend on their Sperwers, and many would rather have more of them, than
another, newer, UAV. The troops have learned that operator experience is a
major factor in UAV success, and much of that would be lost if they switched a
new model. But the brass believe that the higher flying (out of range of small
arms) Heron is easier to operate, and more reliable.
has suffered from the heat, dust and wind that is so abundant in Afghanistan,
and there have been several attempts to get an improved UAV to the troops. For
a while, Canada was going to buy some Predators, not just because these one ton
UAVs are more capable than Sperwer, but because Predator can carry Hellfire
missiles. But this became a political issue in Canada, where many politicians
did not like the idea of an unmanned aircraft carrying, and using, missiles,
even if the actual firing was done by a human operator on the ground.
agreed that a larger UAV would be better, especially one that could carry a
laser designator, and be more stable in the wind. While the politicians fussed,
the troops fumed, and now the government has acted. The Israeli built Heron has
a good track record. Israel uses them extensively in hot and dusty condition
(in Israel), and India has bought fifty of them and used them successfully
along their border with Pakistan. This terrain and weather is similar to what
is found in Afghanistan.
Skylark will be used by army troops, while the Herons will be operated by the
air force. Some believe that the air force prefers the Heron because it lands
and takes off like an aircraft, while the Sperwer is catapulted, and lands via
parachute. But the main issue appears to be reliability, and suitability for