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IAI releases details of maritime Heron UAV

Israel Aerospace Industries has released new details about the equipment fit of its maritime patrol-configured Heron unmanned air vehicle.

To be employed as a replacement for current manned surveillance assets in nations including Israel, the Heron will carry an Elta Systems EL/M-2022U maritime patrol radar, confirms Dr Gilad Dekel, director of maritime operations at IAI's Malat UAV division.

The EL/M-2022U has a maritime search mode capable of detecting and automatically tracking ships from small to large size, and offers "unprecedented capabilities", Dekel claims. Inverse synthetic aperture radar imagery and a vessel's range signature are then used against a stored library of data for classification purposes, with the latter creating a ship contour on the radar screen, "and not only a blip".

The maritime patrol-configured Heron also carries an automatic identification system (AIS) to verify individual vessels. The International Maritime Organization has issued a directive that all ships should be equipped with an AIS transponder by 2018 before entering territorial waters.

Dekel says the EL/M-2022U provides effective surveillance in littoral waters - a crucial requirement for Israel during anti-terrorism missions. It also has an airborne search mode that can detect and track other aircraft, providing support for ground-based systems. Its UHF/VHF radio system will also enable it to serve as a communications relay platform, allowing a controller to speak directly to a suspect vessel.

All the system's features were "successfully demonstrated" during a maritime trial of the Heron performed in Australia last year, says Dekel.

Israel expects to begin flying maritime patrol sorties over the Mediterranean Sea with the UAV by mid-2009, gradually replacing its IAI Westwind 1124 business jet-based Seascans.

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