Australia will begin operating Israel Aerospace Industries Heron unmanned air vehicles in Afghanistan next year, under a new lease agreement with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA).
The Canadian company announced on 1 September that it had received a new contract to deliver services to an undisclosed customer using medium-altitude, long-endurance Heron air vehicles. Defence minister John Faulkner confirmed on 7 September that Australia will be the recipient.
"The surveillance solution will be operational in early 2010 for a period of one year, with options for an additional two years," says MDA. "The new service will include full operations, maintenance and logistics to provide real-time, multi-sensor intelligence information directly in the theatre of operation."
© Australian Department of Defence
Australia will begin operating Heron UAVs in early 2010
Selection of the MDA service follows the company's success in establishing a similar capability for the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan earlier this year. Personnel from the Royal Australian Air Force and Australian army began training on the Heron system in Canada during July, the Department of Defence says, and "have now been absorbed within the Canadian Heron UAV detachment at Kandahar airfield".
In addition to providing rapid support for Australian personnel serving as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, Faulkner says "the experience that the air force gains in operating long-endurance UAVs will also shape the development of unmanned defence capabilities for Australia through the next decade".
The Australian Army had originally been due to take delivery of its first IAI I-View 250 tactical UAVs from late this year under Canberra's Boeing Australia-led Joint Project 129 deal. However, the programme was cancelled late last year, after its developers encountered what the DoD described as "a range of technical issues" that pushed the effort more than two years behind schedule.
IAI delivered the first Heron for Canada's Project Noctua service in October 2008, and the type has been operational in Afghanistan since February. Ottawa's lease agreement with MDA is worth C$95 million ($88.1 million) for the first two years of operation, with an option available to extend the deal by a further year.
© M Cpl Robert Bottrill/Canadian Forces Combat Camera
The Canadian Forces fly the Heron from Kandahar airfield