Size Matters: Elbit’s Hermes 900 MALE UAV
Elbit Systems has enjoyed considerable domestic and export success with its Hermes 450, which sits at the smaller end of the MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV spectrum. As UAVs proved themselves, Elbit wasn’t interested in ceding the market for larger and more capable MALE UAVs to the likes of IAI and General Atomics.
They invested company funds to create the larger Hermes 900, but those kinds of investments eventually need a buyer. In 2010, their home country of Israel stepped up, and became the anchor buyer for this system. They weren’t the last. A comparison with the popular Hermes 450 is instructive…
Hermes 450 vs. Hermes 900
The Hermes 450 is a common medium surveillance UAV, with a 10 m wingspan and a maximum take-off weight of 550 kg/ 1,212 pounds. The 450 offers about 17-20 hours endurance at up to 18,000 feet altitude, and about 180 kg/ 396 pounds of payload capacity via up to 2 body mountings and optional wing pylons. Satellite communications can be attached, but it requires changes to the aircraft body.
It serves in Israel as a dual surveillance/attack UAV, where it has reportedly been modified to carry fuel tanks, or up to 2 Hellfire or Spike missiles. It also serves unarmed with a number of international customers, including Azerbaijan, Brazil, Georgia, Mexico, Singapore, and the US Border Patrol; and with Britain as the Watchkeeper WK450B ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) UAV.
The Hermes 900 offers a larger platform, whose 15m wingspan and 1,180/ 2,204 pound maximum takeoff weight is comparable to the MQ-1 Predator, or to Israel Aerospace Industries’ popular Heron family. Compared to the 450, it offers a higher flight altitude of up to 30,000 feet, longer flight time of up to 30-36 hours, and a 350 kg/ 772 pound payload capacity that’s about double the 450′s.
The Hermes 900 incorporates an Internal Auto Takeoff and Landing system that enables auto-landing even on alternate non-instrumented runways, and has advanced features including built-in autonomous emergency procedures, Air Traffic Control radio, radio relay, and an IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) transponder. Satellite communications can be installed for additional control range.
Payloads can include the SELEX Gabianno T-200 X-band SAR/GMTI and MPR land and maritime surveillance radar, the DCoMPASS surveillance and targeting turret, AES 201V ESM/ELINT signal interception and location equipment, the Skyfix/ Skyjam–COMINT/DF communication snooping & optional COMJAM jamming system, or a Communications relay for friendly troops.
Customers to date include Israel, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico.
Both the Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 are controlled by Elbit Systems’ Universal Ground Control Station, which can control 2 UAVs at any given time from a single station, with a single operator.
Contracts & Key Events
Jan 27/13: Israel. Elbit Systems announces a $35 million contract from the Israel Ministry of Defense to develop “advanced features for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) to be supplied within three years. One of the mission requirements is the quick re-configuration of the UAS’ payloads.”
This isn’t as specific as one would like, but the rest of the release focuses exclusively on the Hermes 900, and links it to the Dec 31/12 announcement.
Dec 31/12: Israel. Elbit Systems announces $315 million in contracts from Israel, including $90 million for more Hermes 900 UAS, to be supplied within 3 years, and 8 years of maintenance services.
Another $25 million funds “advanced observation and long-range target acquisition systems… to be supplied over a three-year period.” No word on whether they’re air, land, or sea systems.
Israeli follow-on order, and platform R&D
Sept 6/12: Switzerland. Out of the 11 systems made by 9 companies that were originally in the running for Switzerland’s UAS contract, IAI’s Heron-1 and Elbit’s Hermes 900 are the finalists. In-flight evaluations will take place in September and October 2012 from the Emmen airbase, over central Switzerland and in the Jura region. Hermes 900 flights end on Oct 19/12.
Aug 5/12: Colombia. Elbit announces yet another Latin American customer. This sale involves Hermes 450 and 900 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to “a Latin American customer.” The buyer is later identified as Colombia, while Elbit’s own release confirms its 1st export sale as Chile.
Elbit said the contract includes the Hermes Universal Ground Control Stations (UGCS), Elop’s DCoMPASS surveillance turrets, and satellite communication systems that allow the UAVs to operate over remote areas. Deliveries will be made over the next 2 years. Elbit Systems | Israel’s Arutz Sheva | Asian Defense News | Flight International.
Colombia buys 450s and 900s
Jan 3/12: Mexico. Israel’s Elbit Systems announced a $50 million contract to supply Hermes 900s to:
“…a governmental office of a country in the Americas. The UAS will be operated in a variety of perimeter security missions…. The contract includes Universal Ground Control Stations (UGCS) and a variety of payloads and capabilities including: the Electro-Optics Elop Division’s advanced payloads systems, the Elisra Division’s intelligence COMINT systems, SAR/MPR multi mode radar and additional sensors.”
Mexico Federal Police
June 27/11: Radar. Elbit Systems has picked Selex Galileo’s Gabbiano-series X-band surveillance radars for the Hermes 450 and Hermes 900. The Hermes 450 will get the 43kg T20 radar, while the Hermes 900 will carry the more powerful 62kg T200 for land and maritime surveillance. defpro | Flight International.
June 6/11: Chile. Elbit Systems announces its 1st export sale for the Hermes 900 UAV, plus ground control, DCoMPASS surveillance systems, and an unidentified radar system, to “a customer in Latin America.”
Other press sources point to Chile, which had already chosen the Hermes 900. The 2010 earthquake demonstrated the need for advanced, rapid response, long endurance aerial surveillance systems. In response, Chile’s competition looked at 4 Israeli UAVs: Elbit’s Heron 900 and IAI’s Heron at the high end, and the Hermes 450 and Aeronautics DS Aerostar at the low end. Defense Update.
1st export: Chile
May 18/11: Chile. Flight International reports that Elbit Systems’ Hermes 900 has been picked over IAI’s Heron-1 by the Chilean defence forces.
Jan 10/11: Testing. Elbit Systems’ 1st Hermes 900 UAV has accumulated 350 flight hours, while its 2nd prototype will soon enter flight testing.
A follow-on order from Israel is expected within the framework of the nation’s next multi-year plan. Flight International.
May 5/10: Israeli order. Elbit Systems of Haifa, Israel announces a 3-year, $50 million contract to supply the Israeli Defence Forces with its brand new Hermes 900 systems, along with additional Hermes 450 UAVs. The contract also includes “enhancement of [the IDF's] existing UAS intelligence capabilities,” which presumably means sensor improvements and extensions.
The award continues ongoing contracts from Israel, including a $30 million contract for Hermes 450 systems in November 2007. Elbit release | Globes | Aviation Week | Defense Update | Flight International.
1st order: Israel
Dec 14/09: Testing. Elbit Systems announces that its Hermes 900 UAV has completed a successful Maiden Flight, and will enter serial production following additional flight tests.
April 1/09: Flight delays. Elbit Systems unveiled the Hermes 900 in mid-2007, but the UAV’s 1st flight has been delayed. The firm is reportedly accelerating efforts to make that flight before the end of 2009, so potential customers can evaluate the design. Flight International.
June 12/07: Elbit announces its Hermes 900 UAV offering, which will share ground control infrastructure with the smaller Hermes 450. Defense Update.