Israel Aerospace Industries has revealed that it expects to complete developmental testing and secure the first customer for its Super Heron unmanned air vehicle by 2015.
The larger, maritime, heavy-fuel variant of its Heron UAV was introduced during the Singapore Airshow in February. Since then, it has completed its initial flight-testing phase and is now due to undergo a maturation phase that will require a number of flight hours before it is production-ready.
Jacques Chemla, director of business development at IAI's military aircraft group, told Flightglobal that he believes the Super Heron will be contracted next year and first deliveries will be possible some 12 to 15 months later.
The 1,450kg Super Heron is faster than the Heron, has a 200hp (149kW) engine, can fly at 150kt (278km/h), and has a long-range 19in electro-optical/infrared camera payload.
“We are able to recognise and identify ships at 40km [22nm], instead of 12km with the Heron,” Chemla says.
“There are always tenders and interested customers, unfortunately it’s the budgets that shrink,” he adds. “We are fighting in order to provide this system to customers.”
IAI can scale up or down the Heron family of UAVs based on customer requirements and budgets, offering more or less expensive sensors, for example, according to the need.
The company is offering the system as an upgrade to current users of the Heron, but Chemla expects the launch customer for the Super Heron to be a new operator of the Heron type.
The UAV was designed for the export market, specifically for nations with a higher range requirement. The Israel Defence Forces are primarily concerned with homeland security, so it focuses on monitoring Israel’s borders and has no urgent need for such a long-range UAV.
The Heron that it operates has been used for some maritime missions, Chemla says: “They already have what they need. We are leading this from the export market.”
Meanwhile, the Tactical Heron – a smaller, 750kg variant of the UAV – is also being prepared by the company, which expects to begin test flying it in summer 2015.
This is being marketed at operators of the older IAI Searcher UAV, and three customers have already committed to it.
During the show, the company’s Elta Systems subsidiary introduced two new radar systems to its ELM-2022 family, including the ELM-2022ES active electronically scanned array system and the ELM-2022ML 50kg radar with its mechanical antenna array.
Both will be tested on different Heron types, which Chemla says is next in the development plan for the new radar systems.
The ELM-2022ML would be suited to the Tactical Heron, or alternatively as a cheaper option for the Heron.