Starry Eyed: 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 the “Kochav” (“Star”). 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 RAFAEL 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, with a 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. A maritime configuratoin can add an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to ID compliant ships, Communications relay that lets the operator ‘talk through’ to vessels at sea, and Windward Ltd.’s MarInt satellite-based maritime intelligence analytic system.
Known customer nations to date include Israel, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. Elbit actually claims 8 total customers, leaving the missing service branches or countries unclear.
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
Order from Brazil; Switzerland picks Hermes 900; Hermes 900 becomes a Star.
September 14/18: Hermes in Zambia Reports suggest that the Zambian Air Force (ZAF) is now operating at least one Hermes 450 UAV. The Hermes 450 is produced by Israeli company Elbit and can serve as a dual surveillance/attack drone. The Hermes 450 incorporates a high wing design. The cylindrical shaped fuselage is attached with straight wings. The UAV has about 17-20 hours endurance at up to 18,000 feet altitude, and can carry about 396 pounds of payload.
June 28/18: Hermes to fly in Thailand The Royal Thai Army (RTA) is currently adding four Hermes 450 drones to its inventory. The long-endurance tactical unmanned aerial vehicles are produced by Israel’s Elbit System. The Hermes 450 is a common medium surveillance UAV, with a 10 m wingspan and a maximum take-off weight of 1,212 lb. The 450 offers about 17-20 hours endurance at up to 18,000 feet altitude, and about 396 lb. of payload capacity via up to 2 body mountings and optional wing pylons. The UAVs will be used for operations including target designation; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), and mapping. The system is also expected to be used to track insurgency movements and drugs smuggling. The procurement of the Hermes 450 drones was finalized in 2017 at a total cost of $30 million.
August 25/17: Elbit Systems’ Hermes 900 UAV has been declared fully operational by the Israel Air Force following the successful completion of evaluations by the service. The inspection carried out included assessments of the aircraft’s operation and maintenance, and the squadron’s flight department’s capability to receive a mission from HQ and complete it successfully, among others. Nicknamed Kochav, it is the most advance UAV in the Israeli Air Force UAV division.
August 22/17: The Hermes 900 UAV is likely to have its full operational capability (FOC) declared by the Israeli Air Force before the end of the month. Developed by Elbit Systems, it is expected that the number of Hermes 900s in use with the air force will be increased once FOC is awarded. The MALE UAV was first used in combat during Israel’s 2014 Protective Edge operation in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, accumulating hundreds of flight hours throughout the campaign, flying in excess of 100 times with what the service described as an extremely high success rate. Switzerland and Brazil have also expressed interest in purchasing the UAV.
July 26/17: Elbit Systems announced that it has flown a number of demonstration flights of its Hermes 900 UAV for an interested Philippine Air Force (PAF). Manila is in the market for new intelligence reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities for both patrolling its territorial waters and tackling an insurgency on the archipelago by jihadists affiliated with the Islamic State. Earlier this month, neighboring Singapore offered to send UAVs and urban warfare assets to help the Philippine military tackle the insurgency, platforms which contains fellow Israel firm IAI’s Heron 1—which has a range of 200km and can stay in the air for 24 hours—and the Hermes 900’s predecessor, the Hermes 450—which has half the range and a shorter flying time of 14 hours. The Hermes 900 meanwhile, boasts an endurance of 36 hours and a flight range of 1,850km.
November 15/16: A joint venture agreement has been finalized between Elbit Systems and Adani Enterprises to manufacture UAVs for the Indian market. The joint venture will pitch Elbit’s Hermes 450 and 900 systems in an effort to break the stranglehold currently held by fellow Israeli firm IAI. Having recently joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), New Delhi is forging ahead with procuring armed UAVs in order to tackle militants operating in areas such as the disputed region of Kashmir.
August 26/16: Thales UK is now operating three Hermes 900 as part of the United Nations (UN) Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali. A three year contract had been signed back in December and holds options for a further two years. The contract covers the deployment of three aircraft (two for operational duties, the third as a spare) with two control stations and flight crews to enable the simultaneous use of both aircraft.
April 5/16: Elbit Systems has signed a number of joint venture agreements with Indian companies in order to offer its UAV systems to the country’s market. Adani Aero Defence and Alpha Design Technologies are to co-operate with the Israeli UAV giant to offer their Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 UAVs to the Indian armed forces. The agreement will see local manufacture at a production facility in India for the airframes and payloads, and meets the terms of the government’s “Make in India” policy that encourages foreign investment and partnership with Indian industry.
November 27/15: Switzerland is to buy six Hermes 900 Heavy Fuel Engine (HFE) UAVs from Elbit Systems in a deal worth $200 million. The delivery of the UAVs is expected to be completed by 2020 when the current UAVs in service are retired. The Hermes are thought to provide a considerable increase in the capability of the Swiss Air Force, who currently operate the Ruag Aerospace ADS 95 Ranger for their reconnaissance and surveillance needs. The Hermes saw extensive action during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last year as well as being used by Brazil when it hosted the World Cup.
September 29/15: Israel’s Elbit Systems has been awarded a $70 million contract by an undisclosed Latin American buyer for the Hermes 900 UAV system. The company was awarded a similar contract in June 2011, also to an undisclosed customer in the region, with the Swiss parliament approving the $250 million acquisition of six Hermes 900 UAVs earlier this month.
June 6/14: Switzerland. The Swiss UAS 15 program picks the Hermes 900 with a heavy fuel engine over IAI’s Super Heron-1, while stressing that their UAVs will remain unarmed. The UAS 15 program has a budget of SFR 250 million (about $280 million), and it will be submitted as part of Switzerland’s 2015 armaments program bill. This isn’t a contract yet, and there won’t be one until the money is approved. The Swiss government confirms that the purchase will involve:
“1 system with 6 drones including sensors, ground components, logistics package, training resources and training.”
The Hermes 900 HFEs will replace Switzerland’s ADS 95 Ranger collaboration between IAI, Oerlikon, and RUAG, which was also exported to Finland. Those tactical UAVs have served since 2000, and the state of the art has moved on since then. Ranger UAVs have an excellent safety record in-country over populated areas, but after the government’s recent tepid and failed defense of its fighter procurement, we’re going to go out on a limb and predict that this will become a major political issue. Absent a serious defense this time, public antipathy to drones in general could hand the government and defense forces another loss.
IAI and Elbit’s UAVs were short-listed as finalists after pre-testing (q.v. Sept 6/12), but the Swiss say that “Hermes 900 HFE has been favoured because it delivered the better overall result in all assessed criteria” during the full evaluation. Regardless of what happens with the Swiss buy, that will be a positive boost for Elbit’s marketing efforts. Swiss Air Force, “ADS 95 Ranger” | Swiss government, “Armed Forces reconnaissance drone system to be replaced” | Elbit Systems, “Elbit Systems Selected as Preferred Supplier for Swiss UAS program”.
Swiss pick Hermes 900
March 26/14: Elbit Systems Ltd. announces a contract from the Brazilian Air Force (“FAB”) for 1 Hermes 900 system, to be delivered within 2 months and equipped with “a new and advanced intelligence gathering system considered as a breakthrough operational solution.” It will form part of the security measures for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and will be operated by FAB in combined missions with their existing Hermes 450 fleet, which was bought in 2011.
Elbit’s AEL SYSTEMAS S.A. subsidiary will supply technical and engineering support, as well as spares and maintenance services.
Elbit’s UAS Division General Manager, Elad Aharonson, is quoted in Ha’aretz calling this sale “…the eighth customer to be equipped with this leading platform…”. That indicates no less than 3 unannounced customers, after Israel, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico. Note that different armed branches within the same country are counted separately. Mexico’s Federal Police bought the Hermes 900, but if the Mexican Air Force and Navy ever decided to their own ink orders, that would make 3 customers in Mexico. Announcements made so far don’t indicate that sort of thing, but they’ve also been vague, and one can expect them to often be partial. If there are unannounced external sales beyond the core 5 countries, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Kazakhstan are good places to start the search, and we’d be curious about Nigeria. Sources: Elbit Systems, “Elbit Systems Awarded Contract to Supply Brazil with Hermes 900 UAS” | Ha’aretz, “Israel’s Elbit System wins contract to supply Brazil with Hermes 900 drone”.
March 20/14: Kochav. Israel gives the Hermes 900 a name: Kochav (Hebrew for “Star”). Sources: IAF, “A Star Is Born: A Name Is Chosen For the “Hermes 900″ UAV'”.
2012 – 2013
Orders from Israel, Colombia & Mexico; Maritime patrol configuration introduced.
Oct 7/13: Chile. The Chilean Navy is reportedly evaluating the Hermes 900 for maritime patrol tasks. The UAV already serves with the Chilean Air Force (FACh). Sources: Flight Global, “Chilean navy considers Hermes 900 deal”.
Feb 6/13: Maritime. At Aero India 2013 in Bangalore, Elbit Systems launches a Hermes maritime configuration. It includes the SELEX Gabbiano T200 radar (q.v. June 27/11), an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to ID compliant ships, radio relay that lets the operator ‘talk through’ to vessels at sea, and Windward Ltd.’s MarInt satellite-based maritime intelligence analytic system. Sources: AIN, “Elbit Takes New Orders for Hermes 900, Develops Maritime Version of UAS” | Defense Update: “Hermes 900 Takes on Maritime Missions”.
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 this contract 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.
The chosen UAV will replace an older Israeli UAV, the Ranger from RUAG, Oerlikon, & IAI. Sources: armasuisse, “Evaluation ADS 15” | UAS Vision, “Hermes 900 and Heron 1 in Final Flight Tests for Swiss Air Force Contract”.
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
2007 – 2011
From unveiling to orders from Israel & Chile; Radar picked.
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.
- Elbit Systems – Hermes 900 [PDF]. They also advertise a maritime patrol version [PDF].
- Airforce Technology – Hermes 900 Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV), Israel.
- Defense Update – Hermes 900.
- Israeli Weapons – Hermes 900.
Ancillary Systems & Payloads
- Elbit Elisra – AES-201/V. ELINT and ESM system. Podded on the Hermes 900.
- Elbit Systems of America – DCOMPASS. Day/night surveillance and targeting turret.
- SELEX ES – Gabbiano Multi Mode data sheet [PDF].
- Windward Ltd. – MarInt – Predictive Maritime Analytics.
- Elbit Elisra – Sky Fix. COMINT system, podded on the Hermes 900.
- Elbit Elisra – Skyjam. Communications jamming, built for each platform out of customizable, interoperable and interconnected airborne COMJAM payload components.