Will IAI’s Heron-TP become NATO’s MALE UAS?

The indications have been there for at least a year – but they were not enough. Now, however – and with great caution – Israeli sources say that the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron-TP unmanned air system (UAS) may become the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) choice of many European countries, as part of their common NATO equipment.

NATO plans to acquire an Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system that will give commanders a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground – NATO claims that the operation to protect civilians in Libya showed how important such a capability is.

And so, a group of allies intends to acquire five UASs and the associated command and control base station, and then operate and maintain them on behalf of all 28 allied nations.

The AGS system is expected to be acquired by 13 allies – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States – and will then be made available to the Alliance in 2015-2017. 

This key procurement programme is in its final approval phase, before the 13 nations authorise a signature on the contract.

France has already selected the Heron-TP, and it is expected that Germany will re-evaluate it after the cancellation of the Talarion programme.

EADS has not officially opened talks with IAI after the Talarion cancellation, but German sources believe any such talks will result in the Heron TP being offered to the German armed forces.

German forces in Afghanistan are already using the IAI Heron-1 UAS, and the army has been briefed on the capability of the Heron-TP.

The open architecture of the Heron TP resulted recently in an accelerated process that will enable the UAS to fly in French airspace.

IAI and France’s Dassault aviation have formed a joint company in France that will assemble the Heron-TP and fit it with some French payloads.

The Germans are still evaluating the Predator-B, and sources said that the competition will be “fierce”.

Sources in Israel also said the Heron-TP is being evaluated by Spain and “may soon be evaluated” by the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Some developments point to a possible UK interest in the Heron-TP. The UK and France last year decided to fund a study of the potential development of a joint MALE UAS.

This common interest has not yet resulted in a new design, however, and France – as I mentioned above – has already selected the Heron-TP.

Plans to establish a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF), related to NATO, have been expanded, and discuss an operating capability in 2016.

Knowing all these facts, I think the Heron-TP in different versions is can become NATO’s MALE UAS .

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