The Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) Heron remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) has flown its last mission from Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan.
As part of Operation Slipper, the aircraft completed more than 27,000 mission hours providing high-resolution intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to Australian forces and international security assistance force (ISAF) partners in southern Afghanistan.
Since August 2009, a total of 15 Heron detachments comprising 490 air force, navy and army personnel, have operated in Afghanistan using three aircraft. These aircraft are built by Israel Aerospace Industries.
While Australia’s mission in Uruzgan was completed in December 2013, the Heron mission was extended to support ISAF members in Regional Command-South. This included support to the 2014 Afghan presidential election.
Heron Rotation 15 commanding officer wing commander Phillip Parsons said: "From Heron’s first days supporting the Special Operations Task Group through to the end of Australia’s mission in Uruzgan province last year and support to ISAF units throughout 2014, Heron has provided commanders on the ground with information they needed to fight and keep their people safe.
"Sometimes we were the only remotely piloted aircraft flying in this region and we’d often be called upon to get overhead and provide information back to coalition partners.
"The Australian Heron capability forged a fine reputation among our American and other coalition partners here in ISAF as a result of our can-do attitude and the capabilities of this aircraft."
Australian Joint Operations chief vice admiral David Johnston said: "This final flight marks the end of a dedicated and well-executed mission that has been pivotal in keeping our personnel safe, minimising the risk to civilians on the ground, and achieving our Operation SLIPPER mission."
All Heron detachment personnel are scheduled to return to Australia by the end of the month.
Australia has already committed its support for security and stability in Afghanistan beyond this year, including contribution to the post-2014 Nato-led ‘train, advise, assist’ mission.
Image: Australian Heron Detachment Rotation 15 commanding officer wing commander Phillip Parsons with the crew of the final Heron mission at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan. Photo: courtesy of CPL Janine Fabre/ Commonwealth of Australia.