2008: Canada is buying at least half a
dozen Israeli Heron UAVs. These 1.1 ton aircraft can stay in the air for over 40
hours at a time and carry some 500 pounds of cameras and other sensors. These
UAVs will give Canadian troops in Afghanistan better support than the Sperwer
UAVs they had been using.
earlier bought 21 of the Sperwers, including ten second hand ones obtained from
Denmark two years ago. France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, Greece and
Canada had all used the French built
Sperwer UAV, which got its first heavy use during Balkan peacekeeping missions
in the 1990s.
Canadians used their Sperwers heavily in Afghanistan, and have paid to improve
the Sperwer flight control software, to make the UAV more stable when landing
under windy conditions. It's often windy in Afghanistan. Still, troops were
envious of superior UAV types they saw in use by other nations.
million Sperwer LE (Long Endurance) weighs 772 pounds, carries a 110 pound
payload, is 12 feet long and has an endurance of 12 hours. Sperwer can operate
up to 200 kilometers from its ground control unit. But the Sperwer uses a noisy
engine (think lawnmower) and flies low enough to be heard. This has not proved
to be a problem, as the people below, if they are Taliban, either start
shooting at the UAV, or try to run away. The Canadian troops have come to
depend on their Sperwers, and would rather have more of them, than another,
newer, UAV. The troops have learned that operator experience is a major factor
in UAV success, and much of that would be lost if they switched a new model.
Sperwer has suffered from the heat, dust and wind that is so abundant in
Afghanistan, and there have been several attempts to get an improved UAV to the
troops. For a while, Canada was going to buy some Predators, not just because
these one ton UAVs are more capable than Sperwer, but because Predator can carry
Hellfire missiles. But this became a political issue in Canada, where many
politicians did not like the idea of an unmanned aircraft carrying, and using,
missiles, even if the actual firing was done by a human operator on the ground.
Everyone agreed that a larger UAV would be better, especially one that could
carry a laser designator, and be more stable in the wind. While the politicians
fussed, the troops fumed, and now the government has acted. The Israeli built
Heron has a good track record. Israel uses them extensively in hot and dusty
condition (in Israel), and India has bought fifty of them and used them
successfully along their border with Pakistan. This terrain and weather is
similar to what is found in Afghanistan.