Warplanes: The Predator Substitute Of Choice

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June 4, 2009: Mid-size UAVs, like the American Predator and Reaper, are in big demand. Almost the entire production is taken by the U.S. Department of Defense and CIA. Many countries seek a suitable alternative, and the Israeli Heron is often the substitute of choice. Now the U.S. government, seeking UAVs to use for counter-drug operations in South America, is also checking out the Heron.

Three years ago, the Heron lost out in a competition for a Predator class UAV for the U.S. Army. The winner was the Sky Warrior, made by General Atomics (which makes the Predator and Reaper). The Sky Warrior is larger than Predator, but smaller than Reaper. Meanwhile, the Heron has become the "Predator Substitute Of Choice" for many nations.

Last year, Canada ordered half a dozen Israeli Heron TP UAVs. Equipped with a powerful (1,200 horsepower) turbo prop engine, the 4.6 ton aircraft can 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), which is the same size as Heron.

The Heron line of UAVs has been around longer than the Predators, and have a comparable track record. India and European nations are already buying various models of the Heron. The Heron TP is also suitable for maritime patrol, and is a low cost competitor to the Global Hawk, which has far more range than most nations need for their naval reconnaissance aircraft.

Canada is already leasing some older (and smaller) Herons for use in Afghanistan. Several other nations also lease Herons, which the U.S. may do as well for the counter-drug operations.

 


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