RPAs in Afghanistan: Heron 1 Reaches 25,000 Flight Hours Via Operator Support Business Model


2015-11-28 The Luftwaffe operates the Heron 1 in Afghanistan with support from Airbus Defence and Space.

The German Air Force focuses on utilization of the aircraft and Airbus and Defence and Space is responsible for operating the systems and guarantees the operational readiness of Heron 1 in Afghanistan.

This services business model expands the capability of the German forces and enables Airbus and Defence to focus on operations and modernization,

According to an Airbus Defence and Space press release published on November 27, 2015:

Following this year’s 410th flight on 16 November 2015, the Heron Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), which is jointly operated by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) and Airbus Defence and Space, successfully landed in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, bringing the total number of flight hours it has completed in the country up to 25,000. The occasion was celebrated at Camp Mazar-e-Sharif together with the Luftwaffe. 

The Heron UAS delivers valuable intelligence and surveillance data round-the-clock to the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) for its ‘Resolute Support’ mission in Afghanistan. 

The UAS’s satellite data link makes it possible to monitor the entire northern half of the country – which, at over 300,000 square kilometers, is almost the size of the Federal Republic of Germany. The UAS thus makes a meanwhile invaluable contribution to protecting soldiers and the civilian population in Afghanistan. 

Ralf Hastedt, Head of Sales at Airbus DS Airborne Solutions, underlines: 

“With this system the Luftwaffe is performing leading services in comparison to other nations. A great number of operators and maintenance personnel both from the Luftwaffe and industry have now been trained to use this UAS, and the experience we have gained on a national scale will certainly prove useful for other mission and when using future MALE UAS.” 

Heron 1 in Afghanistan. Credit Photo: Airbus Defence and Space
Heron 1 in Afghanistan. Credit Photo: Airbus Defence and Space

The UAS’s availability for carrying out long-term surveillance and reconnaissance operations from the air via real-time video is an essential criterion for all operations in the region. 

The high degree of acceptance is not least thanks to the hard work of the on-site maintenance team, which ensures the operational readiness of the aircraft and ground stations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The press release adds details with regard to how the working relationship between the German military and Airbus works in Afghanistan.

Manufactured by the Israeli company IAI, Heron 1 is a medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAS for the respective theatre of operations. The aircraft has a wingspan of 17 meters and a typical mission endurance of over 24 hours. 

The Heron 1’s military tasks include detecting booby traps from the air, accompanying convoys and patrols, assisting forces in combat situations, reconnaissance and surveilling routes, establishing movement profiles, long-term monitoring, supporting situational assessments, and protecting property and military camps. The UAS is also used to support humanitarian missions as well as to safeguard the national security of countries. 

Airbus Defence and Space is responsible for operating the systems and guarantees the operational readiness of Heron 1 in Afghanistan as agreed on the basis of an operator model. 

To this end, the company has stationed some 40 engineers, pilots and UAS specialists in the region to maintain the system and conduct test flights.

This ensures that the Bundeswehr can call on an airborne intelligence capability at all times. 

It also frees it from non-core tasks so that it can concentrate fully on completing its mission.