The Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) final Heron remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) detachment has returned home from Afghanistan following a five-year mission.
Heron Rotation 15 consisted of personnel from all three branches of ADF, including the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), army and navy, as well as civilian contractors.
Since August 2009, three Heron aircraft have operated at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, as part of Operation Slipper, and flew its final mission on 30 November.
The drones completed more than 27,000 mission hours, providing high-resolution intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support to Australian forces and international security assistance force (ISAF) partners in southern Afghanistan.
Australian deputy chief of air force air vice-marshal Leo Davies said: "The men and women that have deployed with Heron should be very proud of what they have achieved for the ADF mission in Afghanistan.
"These remarkable men and women have represented us very well in difficult and dangerous circumstances in Afghanistan."
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While Australia’s mission in Uruzgan province concluded in December 2013, the Heron mission was extended to support ISAF members in Regional Command-South, including support to the 2014 Afghan presidential election.
One Heron RPA is scheduled to return to RAAF Base Woomera in South Australia next year, and along with the base’s existing Heron aircraft, will form the basis of RAAF’s continued development of unmanned aerial system (UAS) operations in support of the ADF.
Manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries, Heron RPA provides high-resolution ISR capability with real-time support to ground commanders, to enhance force protection in the Middle East area of operations.
The 1.1t drone can fly in excess of 24 hours at a maximum speed of approximately 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 UAS.
Image: Australian deputy chief of air force air vice-marshal Leo Davies welcomes home the last Heron Detachment Rotation 15 at Darwin AIrport Northern Territory. Photo: courtesy of ABIS Nicolas Gonzalez / Commonwealth of Australia.