French Senate raises questions about Heron TP sale

Washington DC
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The French senate has released a new report that is sharply critical of the military's four-month-old selection of the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron TP over the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) Predator B.

The Heron TP is significantly more expensive to buy and offers reduced performance and inferior payloads compared to the Block 5 variant of the Predator B, according to a Senate audit report of overall defence spending, which is dated 17 November.

The Heron TP also may be less mature than its American rival. The Israeli air force has logged only 1,000h of flight time with Heron TP in two years of service, according to the French report. The Predator B, meanwhile, has flown more than 250,000h over a four-year period of operations, the report says.

The Senate report also is sceptical of IAI's ability to support the medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aircraft system (UAS). France operates the IAI Heron 1 UAS in Afghanistan, but maintenance support from the company has been "inefficient", the report says. One Heron 1 was damaged 18 months ago and remains in IAI's possession, the report adds.

The Senate report also provides details of the bids submitted by both industry teams - the Dassault/IAI Heron TP and EADS/GA-ASI Predator B.

Dassault submitted a bid for the Heron TP with an acquisition cost of €177 million for seven systems, which includes two aircraft in each system. The EADS bid based on Predator B included an acquisition cost of €74 million.

It is not clear how the EADS bid managed to achieve such a relatively low acquisition cost. The US Air Force pays €40 million ($53.5 million) for a system of four MQ-9 Reapers, including all sensors. If France was charged the same rate for 14 aircraft, the bill would rise to about €130 million.