Defence budgets in disguise – a growing trend?

Defence budgets in disguise are the hottest trend in some parts of the world. The idea was born from the pressure to cut defence budgets according to the economic situation.

Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) Heron unmanned aerial system (UAS) was recently flown in Greece, as part of a demonstration held by the EU border security agency Frontex.

According to IAI, during the demonstration, a number of payloads were employed successfully to detect potential targets, for monitoring anti-smuggling and other illegal activity operations in both the ground and maritime arenas. Among the payloads demonstrated were IAI’s Tamam Division Multi-mission Optronic Stabilized Payload (MOSP) and IAI subsidiary ELTA’s Maritime Patrol Radar (MPR). 

IAI said the Heron UAS successfully demonstrated precise intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and automatic take-off and landing (ATOL), which allow the Heron full operational activity in difficult weather conditions. 

The variety of payloads demonstrated proves that it is aimed at more than detecting illegal immigrants or drug smugglers.

The demonstration took place at the Greek air force base of Aktio, in the presence of representatives from various European countries’ border police and coastguard forces as well as the Hellenic Coast Guard.  


IAI’s Heron is a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAS with a wingspan of 16.6m (54.5ft) and a take-off weight of 1,250k (2,750lb). It can reach an altitude of 30,000ft, with an endurance of up to 40 hours (depending on the mission and payload configuration). Heron is a multi-mission UAS able to carry a wide variety of sensors. It can operate at least five different payloads simultaneously, providing real-time information over a wide area for an extended period of time.

The Heron UAS is in operational use with over 18 customers worldwide, including the Brazilian federal police. 

“Demonstrations like the one in Greece help Frontex understand whether there are possibilities for a civilian use of such technologies. Our main interest is their potential use for border control and for search and rescue operations at sea, as saving human lives is one of our priorities,” said Edgar Beugels, head of Frontex Research and Development.

Officially, Frontex, based in Warsaw, was created as a specialised and independent body, tasked with ensuring cooperation between member states in the field of border security.

“The activities of Frontex are intelligence driven. Frontex complements and provides particular added value to the national border management systems of the member states.”

That’s the official language, but through such organisations, countries can deploy very advanced systems that would never get a line in their defence budgets.

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