August 6, 2010:
German UAV operators are in Israel to learn how to operate the Heron UAVs they are taking to Afghanistan. Late last year, Germany joined a growing list of NATO nations that are obtaining Israeli Heron UAVs for their troops in Afghanistan. A German firm is partnering with the Israeli manufacturer to provide maintenance services (because Afghanistan, like many Moslem nations, does not allow Israelis on its territory). The German Herons will become operational in Afghanistan this year.
Australian troops in Afghanistan begun using Israeli Heron UAVs last year. Australian troops went to Canada to receive training on the Heron, which Canadian troops had also adopted. Canada received its first Heron two years ago. This model of the Heron is very similar to the 1.1 ton U.S. Predator. This Heron has a 227 kg/500 pound payload capacity and can stay in the air for more than 24 hours per sortie.
Sending their UAV operators to Israel for training is causing Germany some diplomatic problems, mainly because two Germans are accused of spying for Israel in Lebanon. One, who was working for the state telecommunications company, fled the country before he could be arrested. The other, working as a technical expert at a Lebanese cheese factory, was arrested. Germany has 4,700 troops in Afghanistan, a situation that is condemned by Islamic radicals throughout the Moslem world.
While Australia and Germany are buying its Herons (for about $10 million each), Canada is leasing them. Two years ago, Canada also ordered half a dozen of the larger Israeli Heron TP UAVs. Equipped with a powerful (1,200 horsepower) turbo prop engine, the 4.6 ton aircraft can operate at 14 kilometers/45,000 feet. That is, above commercial air traffic, and all the air-traffic-control regulations that discourage, and often forbid, UAV use at the same altitude as commercial aircraft. The Heron TP has a one ton payload, enabling it to carry sensors that can give a detailed view of what's on the ground, even from that high up. The endurance of 36 hours makes the Heron TP a competitor for the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper (or Predator B), which is the same size as Heron TP.
The Heron line of UAVs has been around longer than the Predators, and have a comparable track record. India and European nations have eagerly sought to buy various models of the Heron. The Heron TP is also suitable for maritime patrol, and is a low cost competitor to the Global Hawk, which has far more range than most nations need for their naval reconnaissance aircraft.
Heron is actually getting a lot of sales because the Predator manufacturer cannot keep up with American military and CIA orders. Israeli UAVs have a good reputation, although many nations avoid buying Israeli weapons because of the potential backlash from Arab oil suppliers. But in this case, politics is less important than providing their troops with an aircraft that has proven its ability to find an elusive enemy, and making it much more difficult to ambush your own troops. Israeli UAVs are used in 40 countries, and have a good reputation for reliability and effectiveness.