Germany Leases IAI’s Herons for Afghanistan
Germany has just added itself to the list of countries leasing UAV services for the Afghan conflict, by signing a contract with Rheinmetall Defense and their partners at Israel Aerospace Industries to provide an unspecified number of Heron UAVs as the SAATEG (System zur Abbildenden Aufklarung in der Tiefe des Einsatzgebietes). Rheinmetall’s KZO tactical UAV began operating in Afghanistan in 2009, but the Heron is a larger UAV with much better endurance and payload.
Contracts & Key Events
July 8/11: Aviation Week reports on Germany’s high-end UAV plans, beyond its planned 6 RQ-4 Euro-Hawk surveillance and SIGINT drones. The publication states that Germany is looking to field 16 systems of MALE drones over the next decade, to replace the current Heron UAV lease.
Nov 8/10: It’s not just about UAVs. Defense Update reports that the German Air Force has become RAFAEL’s 1st international customer for the ImiLite “multi-intelligence” Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) processing system. The Luftwaffe already uses Rafael’s Reccelite pods on Tornado strike aircraft in theater, though engagement restrictions have basically the turned the fighters into fast reconnaissance jets.
With ImiLite, information from leased Heron UAVs and Tornado aircraft can now be shared on the ground, avoiding delays created by sending all of the data to a central facility. ImiLite links directly to both pod and UAV feeds, hence its “multi-intelligence” designation, and is capable of processing multiple sources in parallel. Analysts can “peel away” layers to focus on specific sensor types, and track back through feeds for forensic analysis. Defense Update.
Sept 17/10: Rheinmetall Defence announces that the follow-on SAATEG contract option has been picked up, for another 2 years of UAV services in Afghanistan. It will run from Oct 23/10 to Oct 22/12, in return for a “substantial 8-figure euro” sum.
The fleet of 3 Heron-1 UAVs has already completed its first 1,000 hours of flight time on behalf of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan, flying for up to 24 hours at a stretch. Rheinmetall Defence
March 18/10: Oops. The Luftwaffe confirms that one of its Heron UAVs struck a parked aircraft while being rolled back after landing at Mazar-e Sharif air base. “There was damage to both aircraft,” the air force confirms, without providing further details. It has launched an investigation to determine the cause of the accident. Luftwaffe | Flight International.
March 17/10: The leased “SAATEG Intermediate Solution” system of “two different unmanned aerial vehicles, including three Heron 1 aircraft and two ground control stations, which Rheinmetall makes available as part of an operator solution” at Mazar-e-Sharif AB, Afghanistan, goes into full operation. The other UAV is presumably Rheimetall’s own KZO.
The German acronym SAATEG stands for “system for imagery reconnaissance deep in the area of operations,” and is is used for real-time aerial surveillance and reconnaissance throughout the German ISAF contingent’s North-Central area of operations. They are supported by a complete maintenance organization in Afghanistan, staffed it with Rheinmetall personnel. Overall operations and control of the aircraft during reconnaissance missions is of course in the hands of German military personnel. Rheinmetall Defence.
Oct 28/09: A “multi-million Euro” contract will see the Bundeswehr lease a Heron UAV system and support from Rheinmetall for 1 year, with an option for a 2 year-extension. Flight operations will commence by mid March 2010, backed by an in-theater 24/7 maintenance and support center. Rheinmetall | IAI.
Different IAI Heron variants are already serving in Afghanistan, with the Canadians and Australians leasing Heron-1 UAVs operated by MDA, while France fields a larger “SIDM” Heron TP variant that’s built and maintained by EADS. The pictures put forward in the Rheinmetall and IAI releases suggested that the German system would be IAI’s Heron TP, but subsequent Luftwaffe pictures established them as conventional Heron 1s.
The Herons will join other leased UAVs in theater with Australia (Heron-1, Boeing’s ScanEagle), Britain (Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450), Canada (Heron-1, ScanEagle), the Netherlands (Aeronautics DS’ Aerostar), and Poland (Aerostar).
Oct 28/09: At least one article [in German] claims that negative experiences with American weapons export bureaucracies and laws shifted the competition away from the MQ-9 Reaper, undermining trust that Germany’s Aug 1/08 DSCA request would result in UAVs that were available on time for the Afghanistan deployment.
It remains to be seen whether the Herons end up serving as an interim bridge to future systems like the Franco-German-Italian Talarion, or an MQ-9 order follows later.
Aug 13/09: Flight International reports that Germany considered the MQ-9 Reaper, Heron-1, and Heron-2/TP for its UAV needs, but decided to look at leasing the Israeli UAVs instead of buying Reapers:
“Germany is going a different path,” says GA-ASI chief executive officer Thomas Cassidy. “They are looking at leasing from an Israeli company. Whether or not that continues or not I don’t know. We have Predator Bs available if they want to switch to Predator Bs.”