Warplanes: Israeli UAVs Go For the Heights

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October 21, 2007: Israel is a heavy user of UAVs, and a pioneer in their development, but lacks the money to modernize its entire UAV fleet. So, most of the new money for UAVs will go into acquiring a new model, a high-altitude version of the older Heron UAV. The Heron TP (also known as Eitan) uses a powerful (1,200 horsepower) turbo prop engine to enable the 4.6 ton aircraft to operate at 45,000 feet. That is, above commercial air traffic, and all the air-traffic-control regulations that discourage, and often forbid, UAV use at the same altitude as commercial aircraft. The Heron TP has a one ton payload, enabling it to carry sensors that can give a detailed view of what's on the ground, even from that high up. The endurance of 36 hours makes the Heron TP a competitor for the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper (or Predator B). The Heron line of UAVs has been around longer than the Predators, and have a comparable track record. India and European nations are the most likely buyers of the Heron TP, which would be suitable for maritime patrol as well. Thus the Heron TP would be a low cost competitor to the Global Hawk, which has far more range than most nations need for their naval reconnaissance aircraft.

Israel will also be replacing some of its older Searcher 2 UAVs with a new model of about the same performance. This UAV, called Shoval (formerly known as Mahatz 1), is basically a direct competitor to the American Predator A (or MQ-1). The Shoval weighs about the same (1.2 tons), and has the same max endurance (40 hours). Shoval has a slightly higher ceiling (30,000, versus 25,000 feet) and software which allows it to take off, carry out a mission, and land automatically. Only the larger, and much more expensive, American Global Hawk can do this. Both Predator and Shoval cost about the same ($5 million), although the Israelis are willing to be flexible on price. The Shoval is being pitched as a maritime recon UAV for smaller nations. For that role, it's very cost effective. UAVs are cheaper to operate than manned aircraft, and in the last few years, have been getting cheaper still, in terms of dollars per flight hour. This will be the big pitch Israel will make, and it will probably find many takers.

 


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