PICTURE: Germany's first Heron UAV emerges

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Germany is on track to begin operating leased Israel Aerospace Industries Heron 1 unmanned air vehicles in Afghanistan in March, with its first personnel having completed training on the system.

The German air force says an initial eight personnel completed their instruction on the Heron in Israel in January. This covered activities such as air vehicle and sensor operation, plus support. The work started late last year, it adds.

To be used in support of Berlin's contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the Heron UAVs will provide near real-time surveillance services from mid-March. The vehicles are being fielded under a one-year lease deal signed with prime contractor Rheinmetall Defence last October.

 
© Rayk Hähnlein/Rheinmetall Defence

The German air force stood up its first UAV squadron at Jagel air base on 5 February. The site will also house its future fleet of Northrop Grumman/EADS Eurohawk signals intelligence aircraft, due to be delivered from 2011.

With a 16.6m (54.5ft) wingspan and a maximum take-off weight of around 1,150kg (2,540lb), the medium-altitude, long-endurance Heron 1 can fly for over 24h above 30,000ft. Operating range is roughly 400km (216nm), according to the German air force.

Germany is not unique in fielding a Heron 1-based surveillance system in Afghanistan. Versions of the IAI UAV are also being used by the Australian, Canadian and French armed forces.

Germany's deal also includes an option for a two-year extension and is understood to cover the use of three air vehicles and two ground control stations.

Berlin has a longer-term requirement dubbed "Saateg" to acquire a new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance UAV capability.