New pictures released by EADS show the French air force’s medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned air vehicles have been fitted with an Israeli electronic intelligence gathering system.

The latest images of the EADS-IAI Eagle 1 show a large hexagonal shaped antenna fitted to the port tail boom, believed to be a derivative of the Elisra AES-210 suite currently in operational service on Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Heron UAVs with the Israeli Air Force.

Qualification and acceptance testing of the Eagle 1, on order by France as a solution for its Système Intermédiaire de Drone MALE (SIDM) interim operational requirement, has started at the French air force’s Istres air base in the south of France ahead of a planned acceptance into service by 2007.

The initial flight at Istres, announced on Monday, was the 85th carried out by the Eagle 1 type says EADS and lasted 90min.

Neither the French air force nor EADS has previously publicly identified electronic warfare capabilities as part of the SIDM requirement. Public comment on the UAV’s sensor suite has thus far confirmed a Tamam IR/EO suite and an Elta EL/M-2055 multimode radar.

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The Istres test programme, which has included what EADS says is the first flight of a production MALE system in French airspace, follows more than 280h of flights in Israel over the past two years. All three production Eagle 1 UAVs were built in Israel with EADS responsible for development of new ground control systems, communications system, air traffic integration systems such as indetification of friend or foe (IFF), and automatic take-off and landing systems.

The Eagle 1 is an evolved version of the IAI Heron. The Eagle Block 0 demonstrator made its first flight in 1998.

The French air force order is for a single Eagle 1 system comprising three air vehicles. The UAV system was initially meant to commence testing at Istres in late 2004 but was been delayed by a combination of integration problems and requirements for the development of an airspace integration framework by French government authorities.

The current test programme will be followed by an operator training phase ahead of acceptance for service.