Vietnam has purchased $140 million worth of Israeli Heron 1 UAVs. Vietnam will use the Herons for “strategic reconnaissance” which probably includes patrolling coastal waters. That is something the Heron does a lot of for many foreign customers.
The Heron first flew in the 1990s and is not only similar to the American Predator but has been produced in larger quantities and sold to more foreign customers. Heron is the primary heavy UAV for the Israeli military, which makes sense as it was Israel, not the United States that pioneered UAVs of this type. It was the Israeli successes in UAV technology that motivated an American firm (General Atomics) to create the MQ-1 Predator.
The Heron 1, because it was so similar to the Predator has sold well to foreign customers who cannot obtain the MQ-1. In addition to being one of the primary UAVs for the Israeli armed forces security organizations from India, Turkey, Russia, France, Brazil, El Salvador, the United States, Canada, and Australia have either bought, leased, or licensed manufactured the Heron.
The original Heron 1 weighs about the same (1.2 tons) as the Predator and has greater endurance (40 hours). Max speed is 205 kilometers an hour and cruising speed is a bit less. Heron 1 has a slightly higher ceiling (10 kilometers/30,000 feet, versus 8 kilometers) than Predator and software which allows it to automatically take off, carry out a mission, and land. Not all American large UAVs can do this. Heron 1 does have a larger wingspan (16.5 meters/51 feet) than the Predator (13.2 meters/41 feet) and a payload of about 250 kg (550 pounds). The ground control equipment can control a Heron 1 up to 350 kilometers away but Heron can travel much farther using pre-programmed instructions and will automatically try to get back if there are any problems. While under pre-programmed flight Heron 1 cannot be jammed.
Heron 1 currently sells for about $10 million each although the Israelis are willing to be flexible on price. Herons are sold as a system (three Herons, a ground control station, maintenance equipment and training) that can cost $50 million (or more) per such system. Most Herons are used for reconnaissance and surveillance, including maritime patrol. Heron can be equipped with missiles but all those exported are unarmed and most used by the Israeli military are also unarmed. Heron does carry a wide array of sensors (day/night vidcams, radars, laser rangefinders and such) and often provides target information of warplanes and helicopter gunships.
Largely unnoticed is the fact that Vietnam is the third largest customer for Israeli military exports. While India gets about half of Israeli arms exports, Azerbaijan gets about 12 percent and Vietnam six percent. In the last decade, Israel has sold $1.5 billion worth of military weapons and military equipment to Vietnam. Israel and Vietnam established diplomatic relations in 1993 and a decade later Israel was supplying Vietnam with a growing number of high-tech exports, including a growing number of military items. It began with Israel providing training, advisory and equipment. After that Vietnam became a customer for a growing number of Israeli weapons and military equipment, including Derby air-to-air missiles, Spyder air defense systems, a factory for producing ACE assault rifles and air defense radars.