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Australia launches Afghan operations with Heron UAV

Australia's first leased Israel Aerospace Industries Heron unmanned air vehicle has begun initial operations in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Under Project Nankeen, Australia's Defence Materiel Organisation has signed a contract with Canada's MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates to provide services using leased Heron air vehicles. The deal is initially for a one-year period, with an option to extend further.

© Australian Department of Defence
File image of Australia's leased Heron UAV

"The UAV will help deliver high-resolution, real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information to ADF [Australian Defence Force] commanders," says the nation's Department of Defence. Operations will be conducted from Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province.

© Australian Department of Defence
The UAV recently arrived in Kandahar

"It is expected to be fully mission capable in the coming months, following an initial training period," the DoD says. A team led by Royal Australian Air Force personnel has for the past five months been preparing for the UAV's arrival in Afghanistan, by training alongside the Canadian military's Heron detachment at Kandahar.

Also including army personnel, the Australian contingent includes UAV pilots, payload operators, intelligence officers, image analysts, engineers, and administrative and logistics personnel.

Australia's ISR capability in Afghanistan has until now relied on its deployment of RAAF Lockheed Martin AP-3C Orion surveillance aircraft and Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle tactical UAVs operated by the Australian Army.

France also operates Heron UAVs in Afghanistan, while Germany is also to use the type under a lease deal signed late last year. The UAV can fly at an altitude of 32,800ft (10,000m), and has a maximum endurance of over 24h.

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