In November 2005, media reports claimed that India was set to purchase some 50 Heron MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAVs from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) in a deal worth $220 million. They would be put to use carrying out reconnaissance missions on India’s mountainous borders with China and Pakistan, and along India’s long coastal waters. India was said to have been close to sealing the deal in 2004, but it was postponed due to the change in governments in New Delhi.
The Heron’s performance during the December 2004 tsunami apparently clinched the deal. Its performance since, and Chinese aggression on the Indian border, has green-lighted a follow-on contract.
India already had about 12 Heron-1 drones before the 2005 sale, and they played a crucial part in search and rescue operations following the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004. IAI Searcher tactical UAVs and and their high-end Heron UAV counterparts were used to locate trapped survivors and missing bodies near the Andaman and Nicobar islands, relaying clear live feed photographs while in flight, and allowing immediate response as soon as survivors or victims were identified on screen.
The Heron UAV is reportedly capable of flying for over 24 hours at a time at altitudes around 32,000 feet. IAI lists flight time as >40 hours, and says that it has demonstrated 52 hours of continuous flight. It has a maximum range of about 3,000 km and can carry a maximum payload weighing 250 kg/ 550 lbs. As a large MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV, it’s built to carry multiple payloads at a time for a variety of missions. Choices include electro-optical and thermal surveillance equipment, SAR radars for ground surveillance, maritime patrol radars and sensors, signals and other intelligence collection antennas and equipment, laser designators, and even radio relays.
India doesn’t discuss its UAV payloads, but reports have its Searcher IIs equipped with the standard day/night surveillance turret, while the Herons are similar to Israel’s maritime patrol configuration, with an Elta Systems radar and a stabilized Tamam surveillance and targeting turret.
A subsequent Heron-2 or Heron-TP variant is larger, with a bigger 1,200 hp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop to power it. Typical mission payload rises to 1,000 kg, which can be carried to around 45,000 feet, and the UAV has a maximum flight time of over 36 hours in favorable conditions.
India and Israel are not alone in being impressed by the Heron’s capabilities. As of 2011, leased Herons or Heron variants are operating in Afghanistan on behalf of the Australian, Canadian, French, and German armed forces; and have participated in demonstrations involving US SOUTHCOM and its Latin American partners. Subsequent years have also seen confirmed or rumored export sales to Brazil’s federal police, Ecuador’s navy, Singapore’s armed forces, and Turkey.
Contracts & Key Events
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June 3/21; Service Contract Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) signed a $200 million contract to provide unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) services to a country in Asia. The services relate to IAI’s Heron unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). This is the fourth major UAS transaction that IAI has announced this year. Controlled remotely from sea frigates or the seashore, the Heron supports ground and maritime missions against submarines and coastal guards. It transmits information while at sea, including between all the weapon systems participating in a mission.
December 13/18: Vietnam Vietnam is buying Israeli drones for its troops. A recently signed contract with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) sees for the delivery of three Heron 1 UAVs and one ground control station at a cost of $140 million. The Heron 1 MALE UAV is designed to perform strategic reconnaissance and surveillance operations. The drone is reportedly capable of flying for over 24 hours at a time at altitudes around 32,000 feet. its sensors allow for a fully automated take-off and landing, even under adverse weather conditions. The Heron 1 is built to carry multiple payloads at a time for a variety of missions, ranging from EO/IR sensors to SAR radars. Israel has sold $1.5 billion worth of arms and defense equipment to Vietnam over the last decade.
June 15/18: Deal finalized Germany’s parliament has now approved a deal to lease Heron TP UAV’s from Israel. The approval puts an end to a long-running series of debates and protests. Last year a German court rejected a protest against the Heron-TP selection by rival bidder General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Additionally, many politicians opposed the idea of acquiring a UAV that could potentially be armed. The Heron TP is reportedly capable of flying for over 35 hours at a time at altitudes around 45.000 feet. It has a maximum range of about 3,000 km and can carry a maximum payload weighing 2204 lbs. As a large MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV, it’s built to carry multiple payloads at a time for a variety of missions. Choices include electro-optical and thermal surveillance equipment, SAR radars for ground surveillance, maritime patrol radars and sensors, signals and other intelligence collection antennas and equipment, laser designators, and even radio relays. The deal is valued at $1.17 billion and allows the German army to carry out long endurance intelligence-gathering missions.
April 10/18: Lease signing imminent Germany is reportedly close to signing a deal that will lease five Heron TP unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). Contracts for the $1.2 billion agreement are expected to be signed in the coming weeks, with the period of lease running for nine years. Airbus will also cooperate on the program and will use the skills learned to help develop a Euro-Drone with France, Spain, Germany, and Italy. The Heron deal had been initially planned to be wrap up by the end last year but was derailed at the last minute due to opposition from the Social Democratic Party. Since then, a German election, hung parliament, and subsequent horse-trading for a new coalition has broken the Heron deadlock—with a new coalition agreement signed between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU/CSU Party and the Social Democrats paving the way for smooth approval of the contract.
June 9/17: Heron TP UAVs leased to the German military by Airbus will be operated from an Israeli air base. It is also believed that German crew will be trained at the site. Deliveries of Heron TP systems for use by the German military will commence late next year and will go towards supporting international operations involving German personnel prior to the availability of a European-developed medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV from around 2025. The deal has been initially held up after a protest by General Atomics.
June 2/17: A German court has ruled against US weapons manufacturer General Atomics after the firm posted a legal challenge against Germany’s plans to lease armed drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). GA, along with Switzerland’s RUAG lost out to provide the Predator B UAV to the German military after Berlin chose to lease the Heron TP UAV in a deal estimated to be worth $652 million. On taking the deal to court, GA stated that they did so “to ensure that this procurement is conducted as a fair and open competition; thereby ensuring that the German Ministry of Defense procures the most technologically superior and cost efficient solution.” Berlin’s decision to lease Herons instead of buying Predators comes as an interim measure until the EU has developed its own drone. Germany, France, Italy and Spain plan to jointly develop a drone by 2025.
October 19/16: Having joined the Missile Technology Control Regime this summer, India is forging ahead with plans to purchase Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron TP UAV. While Israel is not a member of the regime, which aims to restrict the proliferation of missile technology, it has agreed to export its strategic weapon systems only to member countries. While New Delhi has operated the Heron 1 and smaller Israeli UAVs, the Heron TP UAV has a 40h endurance, maximum take-off weight of 5,300kg (11,685lb), and carries a typical mission payload of 1,000kg.
September 14/15 The Indian government has approved the purchase of ten armed UAVs from Israel Aerospace Industries, following a fast-tracking of the program by the Modi administration. The $400 million acquisition will see ten IAI Heron TP drones join other Israeli designs operated by the Indian Air Force, with Harpy loitering munitions, Searcher ISR aircraft and unarmed Heron-1 aircraft already seeing service. The country is also pursuing an indigenous UAV development program known as the Rustom 2. India has been the world’s largest importer of drones over the last thirty years, with IAI officials reportedly in talks with the Indian Defence Ministry over a possible joint production of the new UAVs. India is also planning to allocate significant funds to train increasing numbers of operators to use its expanding UAV fleet.
May 5/15: With 22.5% of all UAV imports over the 1985-2014 period, India has topped the list of unmanned aerial systems importers. The principle beneficiary of India’s UAV spending has been Israel, particularly the IAI Heron and Searcher variants.
Dec 29/13: +15. India’s Cabinet Committee on Security headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reportedly approved an INR 12 billion (about $300 million) budget to buy another 15 Heron UAVs and associated equipment from Israel, and upgrade the existing fleet for improved communications.
The move would give India 40+ Herons, which is a respectable fleet. India’s massive border length, and the number of neighbors it needs to keep an eye on, mean that it really needs more than this. The new UAVs are reportedly slated for the Chinese and Pakistan borders, whereas the existing 3 squadrons seem to be more focused on India’s eastern and western seaboards. Sources: Times of India, “Govt clears proposal for buying 15 UAVs from Israel” | Israel’s Arutz Sheva, “India to Buy 15 Drones from Israel” | (Anti-India) Kashmir News Service, “Indian govt clears proposal for buying 15 Israeli UAVs”.
Sept 8/13: Shift east. India shifts some of its Heron UAVs to the 4,057 km Line of Actual Control between India and China. The Searcher Mk.II UAVs suffer from endurance restrictions and high altitude performance shortfalls, so the IAF wants to replace them all with Herons in that area. As the UK’s Daily Mail reports:
“Though unrelated, this development comes just a day after the furore over the contents of a report filed by Shyam Saran, chairperson of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), indicating a loss of almost 640 sq km of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh to China…. the army will soon issue a formal communication about the [UAV] proposal, which came directly from the ground formations posted along the LAC…”
Sources: UK Daily Mail, “India sends Heron drones to LAC to boost surveillance efforts”.
April 11/12: 3rd Squadron. India’s Navy commissions a 3rd UAV squadron of IAI Searcher tactical UAVs and IAI Heron long-endurance UAVs, in order to step-up surveillance in the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Strait and Palk Bay. INAS 344 will be operated from INS Parundu, the naval air station in Uchipuli, Tamil Nadu, in southern India. It will be controlled by Eastern Naval Command
INAS 344 joins the western INAS 343 naval UAV squadron in Porbandar, Gujarat and the original INAS 342 eastern squadron at Kochi in Kerala. sUAS News.
March 31/11: Flight International:
“India’s navy has operational requirements for additional unmanned air vehicles made by Israel Aerospace Industries, sources say, with these to potentially include improved Heron or Heron-TP systems carrying maritime sensor payloads. Evaluations using some systems have already been carried out, they add.”
Jan 21/11: 2nd Squadron. The Indian Navy stands up INAS 343 (the “Frontier Formidables”) at Porbandar, Gujarat, near the Pakistani border. Gujarat has the longest coastline of any Indian state.
Aug 2/09: Reports that the deal has been approved:
“The Indian Army is going in for two more “troops” (six to eight birds each) of advanced Heron UAVs from Israel for Rs 1,118 crore [DID: then about $230 million], after getting the nod from the Defence Acquisitions Council headed by defence minister A. K. Antony.”
India: 12-16 Herons
Nov 4/05: Reports of the sale. In analyzing the Heron sale, Stratfor notes that:
“The purchase will allow India to better protect its long borders and to pave the way for the planned 2007 acquisition of Israeli Phalcon radar — all while seeking to convince Pakistan that the security balance between the two countries will not shift further in New Delhi’s favor. Pakistan, however, is unlikely to be placated, and will endeavor to counter the Indian acquisition… Despite the negative resonance this deal will have in Islamabad, the Herons will strengthen New Delhi’s ability to deny access to jihadists crossing into India from Pakistan by enhancing India’s border surveillance capabilities.”
Meanwhile, the Pakistani Daily Times newspaper has sources who claim that the Indian Army is also making inquiries about the Hunter UAV, a smaller IAI aircraft that is also in service with the US Army. RQ-5A Hunter UAVs have logged substantial flight time in Iraq, and demonstrated their ability to drop small precision munitions like the Viper Strike. Pakistan’s Daily Times | India Defence | Stratfor
* IAI – Heron Family. Range for the Heron-1 is given as 350 km, but since the drone flies at well over 100 km/h, and can stay up for far, far more than just 3.5 hours, that makes no sense. A 24 hour flight at 125 km/h is 3,000 km, the figure used in this article.
* Defense Update – Heron TP (Eitan)
* IAI – Searcher Mk.III
News & Views
* DID – France’s Harfang/ SIDM IUAV Program. Based on Heron-TP.
* DID – Israeli Manufacturers’ Turkish UAV Contract. Herons. Ran into trouble due to Turkish subcontractors, leading to delays that were covered by rent-a-UAV services from a 3rd Israeli firm, Aeronautics DS.
* India Strategic (November 2013) – Unmanned Aerial Systems: The Game Changer
* India Strategic (February 2012) – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) Indian Perspective
* DID (Sept 13/05) – Israel Places $50M Order for Heron MALE UAVs.