Israel really pioneered the use of small UAVs when they deployed them to great effect in the Bekka Valley campaign of 1982. In a meticulously planned operation, Israel used a number of UAVs, some little bigger than large model aircraft, to trigger Syrian air defence and SAM radars which were then attacked by low-flying aircraft carrying anti-radiation missiles; then when Syrian MiGs arrived on the scene deprived of any radar cover, they were comprehensively routed by the Israel Air Force (IAF) who, supported by AEW&C aircraft, eventually shot down over 80 MiGs without losing an aircraft themselves. This operation amounted to a revolution in military affairs and made every other air force sit up and take notice of how UAVs could be used to provide invaluable support to military operations. A US built version of an early Israeli UAV, the RQ-2B Pioneer, is still in service in Iraq with the US Marine Corps
Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Malat Division are one of the world leaders in UAV technology and one of their current UAVs is the Heron, a fourth generation long-endurance medium altitude system. Capable of taking off and landing automatically, the Heron can carry a payload of 250kg, has an endurance in excess of 40hrs and powered by a single 100hp turbo-charged Rotax 914 four cylinder, four stroke engine, the Heron can climb to 30,000ft. The Heron is capable of fully autonomous flight and can transmit data either by a line of sight datalink, or via another UAV acting as an airborne relay or via satellite. Typical Heron payloads include IAI Tarnam TV/IR Multimission Optronic Stabilized Platform (MOSP), Elta’s EL/M-2055 Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) multi target, track while scan system and there is still have room for a specific customer payload.
The Heron has already achieved considerable success – it is the basis for the EADS Eagle which is being supplied to the French armed forces and one Eagle has also been tested by the UK Joint UAV Experimental Programme (JUEP). Turkey has ordered 10 Herons and associated ground stations in a $180 million contract and will take delivery of the first system by the end of 2005. India is also looking to buy up to 50 Heron’s and associated ground equipment in a $230 million contract.
Israel has also decided to purchase ‘several dozen’ Heron’s in a $50 million contract to replace the IAI searcher as its main unmanned reconnaissance platform. In IAF service the Heron will be known as the Mahatz and represents a major leap in IAF capabilities. In particular, the IAF Mahatz, as well as carrying the Tarnam MOSP and EL/M -2055 SAR, will also carry an IAI Elta ELINT system and it is the ability of the Mahatz to function as a reconnaissance and ELINT platform simultaneously on missions of more than 40hrs that which will make it such an invaluable UAV to Israel.