The Israeli Air Force has been utilising UAVs ever since the IAI Scout first flew during the 1982 Lebanon War. Over the last 30 years, Israel's rickety Reagan-era drones have been steadily upgraded into a world-class unmanned aerial fleet. And last Sunday, the IAF unveiled the newest upgrade to its Heron 1 (Shoval) drone, radar capable of identifying targets 300km away.
The Heron 1 (Shoval) is a Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) drone, capable of staying aloft for up to 52 hours with an operational ceiling of 35,000 feet. Developed by the Malat (UAV) division of Israel Aerospace Industries, the Heron 1 measures 79 feet long with an 26.2-metre wingspan and weighs almost 4000 kilograms. A single Pratt & Whitney PT6A 1,200-hp engine propels the drone along at a brisk 209kph.
The Heron is capable of flying completely autonomously in all weather conditions — including takeoff and landing — over a pre-programmed flight path using its internal GPS receiver, or can be flown manually by a remote operator.
"I can say we are flying above Gaza to the south, the West Bank to the east, in the north [possibly over Lebanon and Syria] and in the west [over the Mediterranean] without being detected," said Maj. G, an executive officer of the IAF's 200 Sqdn, told Aviation Week. "It is not stealthy, but it is silent and very discrete."
While the Heron skulks about the skies, its 250-kilogram sensor payload, which uses both infrared and visible-light surveillance as well as long-range synthetic aperture radar, detects and identifies targets — including suspicious marine vessels in the of the Mediterranean, rocket launcher and mortar nests in the Gaza strip, and even aircraft as far away as Turkey, Cyprus or Egypt.
All of this data is fed back to the ground station in real time, thanks to the Heron's SATCOM capability. It can also relay data to overhead ISR aircraft using a direct line of sight data link. "The system can inquire and intercept any object within just a few minutes," an IAI official told Ynet News. Let's hope it doesn't have too much work ahead of it. [Defense Talk 1, 2 - Aviation Week - Flight Global - IAF - IAI - Wikipedia]