Warplanes: StarLiner STANAG 4671

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July 27, 2020: The Israeli Hermes 900 UAV is now available in a version (Hermes 900 StarLiner) that is equipped to operate in commercial (civilian) airspace. The StarLiner is equipped with sensors and communications that comply with NATO STANAG 4671 rules covering what a UAV must be capable of to operate in the same airspace as commercial aviation. Achieving this has long been possible but it is expensive and the acceptance tests for a UAV model are also exhaustive, grueling and expensive.

STANAG 4671 is currently the most exacting standard and enables a compliant UAV to operate over European commercial air space. Meeting that standard is usually acceptable to most other nations and this makes StarLiner even easier to sell to export customers. To meet STANAG 4671 StarLiner had to be equipped with a radar that has RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) DAA (Detect and Avoid) capability. This means the UAV must be able to avoid commercial aircraft that are aware of the UAV’s presence or not (non-cooperative DAA). The most common problems are with single or twin-engine turboprop “general aviation” (privately owned) aircraft piloted by certified but non-professional pilots. These aircraft account for a disproportionate number of inflight accidents and near-misses. Commercial pilots are well aware of this problem and are less concerned about STANAG 4671 compliant UAVs.

Problems most often arise in congested airspace where less experienced amateur pilots, flying aircraft equipped with fewer sensors and “collision avoidance” equipment are a known danger. STANAG 4671 compliant UAVs have to be able to detect and get out of the way of these amateur pilots without causing problems for any other aircraft. What it comes down to is that STANAG 4671 compliant UAVs need triple redundancy in all systems having to do with its ability to avoid collisions. Israel is trying to get out in front of this need and become the world leader in producing STANAG 4671 compliant UAVs.

Hermes 900 has been in service since 2012 but it wasn’t until August 2017 that it finally completed all its acceptance tests. With the Israelis, an aircraft can be in service for years before it is able to take and pass all of the tests for the capabilities and equipment it was designed to use. This allows the new aircraft to get operational experience, often in a combat zone, so that the design can be tweaked and different accessories tried out under realistic conditions. This enabled the StarLiner to achieve STANAG 4671 compliance in a relatively short time.

Currently over a hundred Hermes 900s are operational or on order for the Israeli Air Force and at least six export customers. Hermes 900 officially entered Israeli Air Force service in 2015. Hermes 900, like other large Israeli UAVs, is also made available, via a British company, for lease and they are popular peacekeeping operations. For example, three of them arrived in Mali (Africa) during 2017 to serve with a UN peacekeeping force. The 900 is popular for maritime patrol and can even carry automatically-inflating life rafts that can be dropped to survivors of a maritime accident.

Israeli aircraft manufacturer Elbit conducted the first flight test of the Hermes 900 in 2009 and it saw heavy use during the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza. This Hermes 900 is similar in size (and appearance) to the American Predator (both weighing 1.1 tons), but the Israeli UAV is built mainly for endurance. The Hermes 900 can stay in the air for 36 hours and has a payload of 300 kg (650 pounds). This means that, with its cruising speed of 125 kilometers an hour, the Hermes 900 has a max range of 4,500 kilometers and a max ceiling of 9,100 meters (30,000 feet). That last bit is important, because one of the export customers is Switzerland and the good high-altitude performance was a key reason for the sale.

The Hermes 900 has a wingspan of 15 meters, length of 8.3 meters and max speed to 220 kilometers an hour. The 900 is basically a stretched and bulked up Hermes 450, which is a 450 kg (992 pound) aircraft, with a payload of 150 kg. It can also carry Hellfire missiles. The Hermes 450 is 6.5 meters (20 feet), long and has an 11.3-meter (35 foot) wingspan. It can stay in the air for up to 20 hours per sortie and fly as high as 6,500 meters (20,000 feet). The Hermes 450 is the primary heavy UAV for the Israeli armed forces and has been in service since the late 1990s.

The Hermes 900, like most UAVs, is sold as system package. Each Hermes 900 system consists of three UAVs, ground control and maintenance gear. Depending on accessories and (for export) the maintenance and training package each Hermes 900 system costs $15-20 million, with the StarLiner costing more.

 


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