The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has extended the deployment of Heron remotely piloted aircraft in Afghanistan until the end of this year.

The Heron aircraft provide surveillance, reconnaissance and real-time situational details of the battlefield to the ground forces of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Operated from the Kandahar Airfield, the Heron were to return to Australia mid-year. The UAV has been providing operational support in Uruzgan province and southern Afghanistan since January 2010.

Built by Israel Aerospace Industries, the 1.1t drone can fly in excess of 24 hours at a maximum speed of around 180km/h at altitudes of up to 10,000m. It can be operated from an airfield runway in conjunction with other manned aircraft, unlike many other small UAVs.

"The Heron’s mission extension comes after the UK deployed five additional MQ-9 Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft in Afghanistan last week."

The Australian Department of Defence said in a statement: "Australia’s Heron detachment has played an integral role in supporting the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and ISAF’s request to Australia is testament to the capability’s strong reputation."

The current detachment will remain in Afghanistan for six more weeks until another group of personnel is deployed to relieve the existing one.

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The Heron detachment includes the Australian air force, army and navy personnel, and civilian contractors.

Communications and information company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) said that it has been contracted by the Australian Government to continue its UAV surveillance service until the end of this year.

The Heron’s mission extension comes after the UK deployed five additional MQ-9 Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft in Afghanistan last week.

The Reaper aircraft also gather intelligence in support of the troops.

Image: A Heron RPA sits on the tarmac at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Photo: WO2 Rob Nyffenegger, 1st Joint Public Affairs Unit © Commonwealth of Australia.

Defence Technology