Vietnam is evaluating the purchase of Israeli-developed equipment, including advanced unmanned air systems, with the maritime surveillance version of Israel Aerospace Industries' Heron 1 being one candidate.

The nation is currently involved in an effort to develop its own UAS and its Space Technology Institute conducted test flights with the AV.UAV.S1 and AV.UAV.S2 designs over the South China Sea during May. The flights included tests of the autonomous flight control system and camera payloads. However, as the basic designs cannot be put into operational service, the Vietnamese defence ministry is looking to acquire foreign systems.

Now operated by the Israeli air force as a "subcontractor" for the Israeli navy, the maritime-roled Heron 1 carries an Elta Systems search radar and an electro-optical sensor. An IAI source says the size of the aircraft's payload bay and its available electrical supply mean additional systems can also be integrated, such as electronic countermeasures equipment.

A typical maritime mission is performed with the UAS flying at between 5,000ft (1,520m) and 8,000ft. IAI offers a satellite communication fit to allow the asset to transmit data from its sensors, despite the relatively low altitude. The company has also demonstrated the capability to "slave" the unmanned aircraft to a surface ship, by equipping the vessel with a tracking antenna.

Israel is operating the specially-equipped Heron 1 to protect offshore natural gas fields from possible terrorist attacks by Hezbollah militants, according to foreign sources.

Source: Flight International