Attrition: India Flies Like A Heron

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December 9, 2014: An Indian Air Force Heron UAV crashed in northwest India (Gujarat) in November. The UAV came down in a rural area and there were no injuries. India does not publicize its UAV losses but it has apparently lost over a dozen of these large UAVs so far, largely because Indian aircraft often operate under hazardous conditions like the open sea or high in the Himalaya Mountains.

In the last decade India has purchased over 70 Heron UAVs from Israel and most of them are still in service. The latest order (and the end of 2013) was for 15 of the latest Heron TP. The air force and navy both have Herons. The navy uses them for coastal patrol while the air force is moving more of its Herons (including the 15 new ones) to the 4,000 kilometers long Chinese border.

India sticks with Israel as a UAV supplier in part because Israel is always improving its equipment. In early 2014 Israel rolled out another new model of its Heron I (or “Shoval”) UAV. The new version is called the Super Heron and is a little heavier (1.45 tons) and uses a more powerful engine that burns diesel instead of aviation gas. The Heron I is similar to the American MQ-1 Predator and has long been popular in India. The main improvements for the Super Heron are mainly the result of the more powerful (200 HP versus 115 HP) engine. This increases cruising speed to 210 kilometers an hour, provides for a faster climb rate and greater maneuverability.

The Heron 1, because it was so similar to the Predator A has sold well to foreign customers who cannot obtain the MQ-1. In addition to being one of the primary UAVs for the Israeli armed forces others like  India, Turkey, Russia, France, Brazil, El Salvador, the United States, Canada, and Australia have either bought, leased, or licensed manufactured the Heron.

The original Heron 1 weighs about the same (1.2 tons) as the Predator and has similar endurance (40 hours). Heron 1 has a slightly higher ceiling (10 kilometers/30,000 feet, versus 8 kilometers) than Predator and software which allows it to automatically take off, carry out a mission, and land automatically. Not all American large UAVs can do this. Heron 1 cost about $5 million each although the Israelis are willing to be more flexible on price. Heron 1 does have a larger wingspan (16.5 meters/51 feet) than the Predator (13.2 meters/41 feet) and a payload of about 137 kg (300 pounds). The Super Heron has a payload of 450 kg (990 pounds) and stay in the air for 45 hours.

Super Heron was designed to respond to requests from many users, especially export customers who like to use Heron for maritime patrol over long coasts (as in India) and need more payload, endurance and maneuverability to deal with the nasty weather sometimes encountered at sea. The larger payload also makes it easier to arm the Super Heron.

The Heron TP has been in service since 2009 and is similar to the 4.5 ton American Reaper. Equipped with a powerful (1,200 horsepower) turboprop engine, the 4.6 ton Heron TP can operate at 14,500 meters (45,000 feet). That is above commercial air traffic and all the air-traffic-control regulations that discourage, and often forbid, UAVs fly 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. five ton MQ-9 Reaper. The big difference between the two is that Reaper is designed to be a combat aircraft, operating at a lower altitude, with less endurance, and able to carry a ton of smart bombs or missiles. Heron TP is meant mainly for reconnaissance and surveillance, and Israel wants to keep a closer, and more persistent, eye on Syria and southern Lebanon. But the Heron TP has since been rigged to carry a wide variety of missiles and smart bombs.

 

 


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