Rheinmetall Airborne Systems expects to complete the 1,000th operational flight of a leased Israel Aerospace Industries Heron 1 unmanned air vehicle in Afghanistan during October, as the German government nears a decision on whether to buy a medium-altitude, long-endurance surveillance system outright.
Flown in Afghanistan under a service provision deal since June 2010 in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, Germany's three Heron air vehicles had logged a combined 10,800 flight hours by the start of this month. Used in conjunction with two ground control stations, the aircraft are flown from Mazar-e-Sharif air base.
Up to two of the UAVs can be flown simultaneously, with the longest single sortie having lasted 28h and 50min, says Christian Glaser, the company's senior maintenance manager supporting the Heron operation. Rheinmetall Airborne Systems personnel are responsible for maintaining the aircraft around-the-clock, with its pilots also conducting take-offs and landings. German military personnel manage the operational activity, which is based around intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks.
With a background in the German air force's air defence organisation, Glaser has completed 15 four-week deployments to Afghanistan in support of the programme in the last two years.
Berlin recently signed a two-year extension worth about €75 million ($97.4 million) to its interim UAV deal, which will see the current service continue until at least the end of October 2014. The German government has been considering the acquisition of a fully owned system, with the Rheinmetall/IAI-promoted Heron TP and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator B in contention.