Heron (Machatz 1) is a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned air vehicle (UAV) system primarily designed to perform strategic reconnaissance and surveillance operations.
It is manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) at its Malat division, Israel, in partnership with the Canadian company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA). The Australian Department of Defence (DoD) awarded the Heron systems contract to MDA.
Heron advanced UAV system
The advanced system offers fully automated take-off and landing, even under adverse weather conditions. Flying at a height of 30,000ft, Heron provides its operators with real-time information on enemy battlefields by performing surveillance and target acquisition over large areas.
Initially, the Heron UAV was deployed by the Indian Air Force and was used for high-altitude land surveillance and maritime patrol missions. Later, Israeli and Turkish Air Forces acquired the UAV system for similar applications.
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) deployed the Heron UAV in Afghanistan under Project Nankeen for surveillance, reconnaissance, security and battle damage assessment.
Heron UAV features
The Heron UAV is configured for multiple operations, even under adverse weather conditions. It uses multiple sensors and satellite communication (SATCOM) for extended-range data capture and transfer. Its features include state-of-the-art avionics, retractable landing gear, along with automatic take-off and landing systems.
Heron UAV engine
The Heron UAV is powered by a single Rotax 914 turbo aircraft engine. It was manufactured by Austria’s leading aircraft engine supplier BRP-Rotax. The engine has the capacity to produce 85.79kW of output power.
Heron UAV has EO and IR sensors, thermal surveillance equipment and laser designator. The sensors were supplied by Northrop Grumman and Tamam Division of IAI. The EO sensor converts light rays into electronic signals for capturing images, real-time data and videos.
The laser designator is used in the Heron UAV for targeting the enemy battlefield. Thermal surveillance equipment is used to capture high resolution images during night by penetrating through clouds, rain, smoke, fog and smog.
The UAV also comprises a direct line-of-sight (LoS) datalink, UAV airborne data relay for beyond LOS missions and ground-based data relay for communicating with the ground control station (GCS).
Radar technology / systems
Electronic support measures (ESM) help the Heron in threat detection and examines the area to determine signals emitted from the surrounding radars. It is primarily used for examining the battlefield area and provides the ground station commanders with relevant data. The AIS gathers details of ships such as vessel type, vessel name and destination.
The radar systems for the Heron have been manufactured by IAI’s subsidiary ELTA Systems. ELTA has manufactured the MPR to identify vessels from very long distances and use silhouette target acquisition. MPR also provides SAR images and detects ground vehicles using its ground moving target indicator (GMTI) mode.
Performance of the Israeli medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned air vehicle
Heron UAV can climb at the rate of 150m a minute and fly at a maximum speed of 207km/h. The altitude and range of the Heron UAV are 30,000ft and 350km respectively.
The service ceiling and wing loading of the UAV are 10,000m and 200kg/m³ respectively. The maximum endurance of the aircraft is 45 hours.
The processing, retrieving and storing of the real-time data provided by Heron UAV is undertaken by the ground control system. The state-of-art commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology is used at the GCS for converting the sensor data such as live and stored images, imagery and spatial information, including EO, SAR, MTI maps, SIGINT and ESM, into actionable intelligence.
A large common map display is installed in the GCS. It monitors the multidimensional situational picture of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data provided by the Heron.
Eagle, Heron TP and Heron MK II are the variants of Heron. Eagle was developed by EADS for the French Airforce, Heron TP and Heron MK II have been designed for the Israeli Air Force (IAF). Heron MK II is also in operations with 20 more organisations globally.
The variants are designed with autonomous capabilities, including automated take-off and landing.
Eagle can fly for 40 hours at a height of 30,000ft. It can carry 250kg payload and various sensors such as MPR (maritime patrol radar), SAR (synthetic aperture radar) / MTI (moving target indicator), EO (electro-optics) / IR (infra-red) payloads, SIGINT (signal intelligence), COMINT (communication intelligence), laser designator and communications relays.
Eagle has two variants – Eagle 1 and Eagle 2. Eagle 1 is powered with 115hp Rotax 914 engine while Eagle 2 has a 1,200hp PT6A engine. Eagle 2 can fly at an altitude of 45,000ft.
The 8.5m long Heron MK II has a wingspan of 16.6m. It has a wide and strong body structure, which enables new configurations such as long-range observation sensors and radars and can carry additional payloads such as the intelligence systems (ELINT, COMINT), ESM, Communication Relay, Special. It is equipped with a Rotax 915 iS engine.
It features standoff capability and can accumulate intelligence from long distances without crossing borders. Heron MK II can reach an altitude of 35,000ft at a speed of 140kt and can remain in the air for 45 hours. It has a payload capacity of 470kg.
Heron TP, also called Eitan, can carry multiple payloads and perform multiple missions such as COMINT, SIGINT and IMINT (image intelligence) or SAR and communications relay.
Heron TP can fly at 45,000ft with an endurance of approximately 36 hours. The first flight of Heron TP was in 2006.
The GPS-enabled Heron can be controlled either manually from the ground control station or through autonomous mode. It is fully equipped with automatic launch and recovery (ALR) system which helps in automatic safe landing during communication failure with the GCS.
Orders and deliveries of Heron UAV
The Turkish Ministry of Defence (MoD) awarded a $180m contract to IAI and Elbit Systems in 2004 to supply ten Heron UAVs, of which two were delivered in November 2008. Four more were delivered in March 2010 and the remaining four in August 2010. Technical problems during the development of Heron caused the delay in deliveries.
The Israeli MoD awarded a multiyear supply support contract worth $50m to IAI in September 2005 for the supply of Heron UAVs to the Israeli Air Force (IAF). Heron, named Shoval (‘trail’ in Hebrew), has replaced the Searcher I and II UAVs.
The Heron UAV system was delivered to the IAF in March 2007. In August 2011, the IAF deployed the Heron in the Mediterranean Sea to safeguard the Israeli gas fields from Hezbollah.
IAI has also supplied 50 Heron medium-altitude low-endurance UAVs to the Indian Army, under a $220m contract. The deal was scheduled to be completed by December 2004 but was postponed due to changes in the government at New Delhi. It was completed in 2009. The Indian Army deploys the Heron UAVs on its borders with Pakistan and China. IAI also upgraded the Russian built 32 Hind Mi-24 helicopters for the Indian Army.
In 2009, one Heron UAV was supplied to US forces in El Salvador by IAI’s US subsidiary Stark Aviation to fight against drug traffickers. The electro-optical sensor in the UAV has ensured maximum coverage of the area.
IAI’s Heron UAV has been in use by Australia since January 2010 under a new C$95m (US$88.1m) lease for two years with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA). The operational service began in January 2010 with a one-year extension period.
The services offered include maintenance and logistics to provide real-time, multisensor intelligence information directly to the ground station.
The IAI and MDA delivered the Heron system to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 10 December 2009.
The Heron UAS supports troops deployed in Afghanistan for surveillance, reconnaissance, security and battle damage assessment until the contract ends in 2011.
The UAV was showcased at Avalon 2011 Air Show in Australia in March 2011. In July 2011, the Australian Ministry of Defence extended the deployment of Heron in Afghanistan until the end of 2012.
Two crashes of Australian Heron UAVs were reported in Canada and Kandahar in 2010. In March 2011, another Heron UAV crashed in the mountain regions of Mardin in Turkey.
A contract was signed between the IAI and Brazilian Synergy group in July 2011 for purchasing additional ten UAVs under the condition that IAI will not supply Herons to Venezuela.
In May 2010, IAI was given a $350m contract to supply Heron UAV to the Brazilian Federal Police. The vehicle was deployed on the Brazilian borders to detect drug trafficking.
In September 2015, India approved a procurement of ten Heron TP UAV worth $400m, for the Indian Air Force.
In May 2020, Greece’s Hellenic Ministry of National Defence and Israel’s Ministry of Defense signed an agreement to lease IAI Heron UAVs to Greece, primarily for border defence.
IAI signed two deals, one to sell and another to lease, Heron MK II UAV systems to an undisclosed central Asian country in January 2021. The systems include reconnaissance payloads and land arrays. In June 2021, IAI signed a $200m contract to provide Heron UAV services to an undisclosed nation in Asia.