Heron Family of UAS: The Key to Gaining Tactical and Strategic Intelligence

Date 8.3.2023

Paving the Way for Unmanned Autonomous Systems 

Since their inception, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) have carved their place in modern  warfare, first as means of intelligence gathering and later as combat intelligence,  surveillance, target acquisition, reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions and Bomb Damage  Assessment (BDA) systems. 

Unmanned Autonomous Systems are becoming increasingly important for modern warfare, providing essential intelligence gathering, surveillance, and target acquisition capabilities.

Unmanned Autonomous Systems are becoming increasingly important for modern warfare, providing essential intelligence gathering, surveillance, and target acquisition capabilities.

Initially used for overhead aerial photography, unmanned aerial platforms are now  equipped with payloads capable of gathering information from standoff range via visual,  thermal, and radar sensors, scanning the electromagnetic spectrum to spot radar and  telecommunications activity, and designating targets for guided weapons launched by other  aircraft or ground forces.  

IAI has been a leader in unmanned systems for more than four decades. Today, the  company provides a broad range of unmanned systems, from the Boeing 737 size, more  than five-ton Heron TP, Heron 1 solutions, down to mini and micro UAS that weigh a few  kilograms, loitering weapons of different types, along with unmanned systems designed for  land and maritime operations. These systems use different aerodynamic configurations and  various propulsion systems that optimize for operation at different altitudes and ranges.  Still, all have a common thread in their ability to operate autonomously, thus replacing the  human operator in dangerous, dull, and dirty military missions. To meet those tasks, IAI has  developed unique autonomous mission systems that provide situational awareness and  control of the platform to assist the human operator on the mission and take over when the  situation requires. Although the implementation of such systems is different in each class,  the principles, based on a deep understanding of unmanned and autonomous control  technologies and mission management, are common to all systems. 

IAI is a leader in the development and production of unmanned systems, with a broad range of platforms and unique autonomous mission systems.

IAI is a leader in the development and production of unmanned systems, with a broad range of platforms and unique autonomous mission systems.

The iUCS mission control system is the standard ground control for IAI’s Heron family UAS.  The system supports all mission phases, platforms, and payloads. The modular iUCS  supports different configurations for tactical deployment in armored vehicles or shelters,  maritime, and airborne platforms. The system is designed to operate with a single  crewmember or stack several iUCS to support larger crews on more complex missions. 

The Heron Family 

The Heron family comprises several platforms designed for operations from the tactical to  the strategic level. All members of the Heron family can share payloads, avionics, and  ground systems, enabling users to scale operations and gain joint training and logistics  advantages. These new models of the family are backed by IAI’s rich heritage, which  accumulated over 2,200,000 UAS operational flight hours worldwide. 

The Heron family features a highly efficient design for intelligence, surveillance,  target acquisition, reconnaissance (ISTAR) and Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) missions. Multiple sensor payloads are carried on board and can operate  simultaneously, installed in and under the fuselage, on the booms, and carried under  the wings. Together, they provide a complete, multi-modal intelligence-gathering 

capability with a single platform. These payloads enable the collection of  reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence in real-time, covering large areas of  interest. Using dedicated sensors, the system can perform standoff reconnaissance  (with the M19 advanced EO/IR payload) over a long distance (up to 100 km) or  persistent surveillance over a wide area (Wasp payload). Synthetic aperture radar  (SAR), Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), and Communications Intelligence (COMINT) measures are also included. The platform supports several datalinks, including a high  throughput line-of-sight and satellite communications terminal providing a robust  downlink for all sensor data. Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF), and a Traffic collision  avoidance system (TCAS, DAA) to assist airspace integration. 

Heron TP is the largest variant of the family. It has been operational with the Israeli  Air Force since 2010. With a maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) of 5,670 kg, Heron  TP can carry 2,700 kg of payloads. It can operate at an altitude of 45,000 ft on  missions lasting 30 hours. These platforms are designed to meet NATO standards, including STANAG 4671, a military airworthiness standard enabling the system to  operate in civilian airspace, a process successfully concluded in 2022. 

Heron 1 is the backbone member of the Heron family, performing strategic as well as  tactical missions It reflects the latest technology and operational maturity IAI, and its  customers have gained since the early 2000s. At a 1,430 kg MTOW Heron 1 can carry  490 kg on missions of up to 45 hours, soaring to a ceiling of 35,000 ft. As its bigger sibling, Heron 1 is certifiable to STANAG 4671. 

UAS are indispensable for modern combat, as they offer the intelligence gathering,  surveillance, and target acquisition required for the planning and execution of  combat operations and precision attacks. Recent conflicts have shown the decisive  effect of military operations combining UAS, loitering weapons, and precision-guided  munitions. To enable continuous operations in contested, UAS should maintain low  signatures in the radar, acoustic, and thermal bands. To evade enemy air defenses,  large UAS should be able to obtain intelligence from standoff range and be equipped  with survivability aids like combat aircraft. The smaller and more affordable  platforms should be agile, attritable, and easy to use to enable simultaneous  operations in significant numbers by the tactical forces. 

The Heron family of unmanned platforms is highly efficient and versatile, capable of carrying multiple sensor payloads and operating for extended periods of time, making it a valuable asset for a wide range of military missions. Heron TP on the picture.

The Heron family of unmanned platforms is highly efficient and versatile, capable of carrying multiple sensor payloads and operating for extended periods of time, making it a valuable asset for a wide range of military missions. Heron TP on the picture.

IAI’s UAS families reflect all these capabilities today. As a multi-disciplinary aerospace  and defense company, IAI has the know-how, experience, and technology to  empower modern armies with autonomous solutions tailored to their needs.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, unmanned autonomous systems (UAS) have become a critical component of modern warfare, providing vital intelligence and surveillance capabilities for combat operations. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has been at the forefront of UAS development for over four decades and currently offers a range of unmanned systems optimized for different altitudes and ranges. IAI’s Heron family of UAS offers a complete intelligence-gathering capability, featuring multiple sensor payloads that can operate simultaneously. These UAS platforms are designed to operate autonomously, replacing human operators in dangerous missions. They are also backed by IAI’s vast experience, with over 2.2 million operational flight hours worldwide.

 
Photo credit: IAI
Text: IAI
Edited by: Katerina Urbanova

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