ILA: German military highlights UAV capabilities at show

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Germany's military services are displaying a range of operational unmanned air vehicles at the show, as a means of highlighting their growing experience with the systems in Afghanistan.

The air force's March introduction of its first leased Israel Aerospace Industries Heron 1 is the most recent example of such equipment reaching the frontline.

Deployed within five months of a deal being signed with prime contractor Rheinmetall Defence, the interim "Saateg" system now provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services for German, NATO and coalition forces. The company is also responsible for providing all maintenance services for the system in Afghanistan, and will soon have 20 personnel deployed.

Capable of flying for over 24h and typically flown once a day, the medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) Heron 1 carries an electro-optical/infrared sensor. A second will be fielded late this month in the configuration on show at ILA (below). This adds a synthetic aperture radar payload and satellite communication equipment. A third will arrive in late August, with the first example to be modified to the improved standard in theatre.

 
© Billypix

Rheinmetall is also teamed with IAI to offer the latter's Heron TP for Germany's long-term Saateg programme requirements after 2013. The turboprop-powered vehicle has a maximum take-off weight of up to 5,000kg (11,030lb), including a 1,000kg payload, and an operating endurance greater than 36h.

"The Heron TP is ready for immediate deployment, and meets the full range of requirements for a future MALE reconnaissance system," Rheinmetall says, adding: "It is less expensive and poses fewer risks than a newly developed system." Around 70% of the modified system would be manufactured in Germany under its proposal.

Meanwhile, the company says its KZO reconnaissance and target-detection UAV "has come through its baptism of fire with flying colours", after completing more than 260 missions in Afghanistan. The German army first deployed the system in July 2009, and its manufacturer is for the first time exhibiting a newly incorporated EO/IR and laser range finder sensor package for the design.

The company is also working on a concept to use the system in tandem with Germany's new Harop attack UAVs, ordered from IAI. The KZO would locate high-value targets for the loitering weapons and provide battle damage assessment after a strike.

"Without reliable, instantly available firepower, even the best battlefield sensors are effectively useless," Rheinmetall says.