The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has announced plans to withdraw its Heron remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) from service by the end of this year.
The RAAF is set to receive an armed medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system as a replacement for Heron after 2020 through Project AIR 7003.
Heron carried out its last mission from RAAF Base Tindal during Exercise Diamond Storm on 23 June, the RAAF stated.
The exercise saw Heron complete 17 sorties in an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance electronic warfare (ISREW) role in support of the Air Warfare Instructor Course.
Heron previously had a crucial role in the airforce’s ability to deliver air-land integration effects in support of national security interests, including operations in Afghanistan, where it completed more than 27,000 mission-hours during Operation Slipper.
The RPA was regularly deployed in restricted military air space from RAAF Base Woomera.
Heron was operated by qualified pilots from a ground station and was able to perform long endurance flights, while staying airborne for longer than a traditional manned aircraft.
Pilots qualified to operate army helicopters, F/A-18 Hornets, F-111s, AP-3C Orion and C-130J Hercules have deployed the Heron RPA in the period from August 2009 to June 2017.
Additionally, the RAAF has recently taken several measures to retain and further develop its operational knowledge and experience, including embedding personnel in the US Air Force to fly the MQ-9 Reaper.
These personnel will form the core of the future Australian Defence Force capability, which will be delivered by AIR 7003.
Image: Heron RPA. Photo: courtesy of Hpeterswald.