Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is evaluating aerial refuelling for the upgraded version of its Heron unmanned air system (UAS), which is better equipped to perform maritime missions.

The Israeli navy is in the process of phasing out its manned Westwind 1124 Seascan maritime reconnaissance aircraft, which have been operated since 1978, and using the Heron instead.

The new version of the Heron is equipped with an improved Elta Systems maritime radar, enhanced electro-optical payload and satellite communications.

An upgraded electrical system also supports the carriage of additional payloads.

Avi Bleser, marketing director of IAI's Malat UAS division, said the maritime version of the Heron has an operational range of 1,000km (540nm) and a loiter time of 8h. However, its total endurance can reach more than 20h, he said.

The maritime Heron normally operates in cooperation with navy ships, which can employ a "slave" mode to receive data from the UAS to avoid detection by enemy ships or aerial platforms.

The Israeli air force is operating Heron 1 ("Soval") UAS' with maritime patrol sensors as a "subcontractor" to the Israeli navy.

The service is now using the type to protect Israel's offshore natural gas fields from possible terrorist attacks by Hezbollah militants, foreign sources have claimed.

Source: Flight International