Israel will begin flying maritime patrol sorties over the Mediterranean Sea by mid-2009 using modified Israel Aerospace Industries Heron (Shoval) unmanned air vehicles, with a prototype having undergone flight testing over recent months.
A senior Israeli air force source says the use of UAVs will enable better maritime coverage than the service's current manned IAI Westwind 1124 business jet-based Seascans, which entered use from 1978.
Shoval air vehicles will gradually replace the current type, and according to the air force will be equipped with a similar payload. Confirmed system elements include a maritime search radar provided by IAI's Elta Systems subsidiary, and a stabilised long-range optical observation system from Tamam.
© Israel Aerospace Industries
Air force UAV operators will act as mission controllers for the new aircraft, while their payload will be managed by Israeli navy specialists.
IAI's baseline Heron air vehicle has an endurance of over 40h at an altitude of 30,000ft (9,150m), and can carry multiple payloads with a total weight of 250kg (550lb). The medium-altitude, long-endurance type was recently employed by the Israeli air force during its participation in Operation "Cast Lead", which struck against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.