Germany approves the use of his Heron TP drones by Israel due to the Gaza War

On October 12, 2023, the German Federal Ministry of Defense (MoD) granted approval to Israel's request for the use of two of his Heron TP unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the continuing conflict with Hamas militants. Germany currently leases five of these drones, already stationed in Israel, which have been employed for various purposes, including the training of German soldiers on Israeli soil.
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The Heron TP UAV is capable of remaining airborne for over 30 hours at altitudes exceeding 45,000 ft (Picture source: Bundeswehr)

It's important to mention that, at the moment, these drones are not owned by Germany but are part of a leasing arrangement. Initially intended for use by the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan and later in Mali, these plans were abandoned due to the conclusion of these foreign missions. At present, the plan is to station these drones in Jagel, located in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

The recent announcement from the German Ministry of Defense has raised questions about the nature of this arrangement. It remains unclear whether this marks a permanent change to the leasing contract for the Heron TP drones, whether they will continue to be the property of the manufacturer, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), or whether the Bundeswehr will gain access to these systems once they become available again following their temporary use by the Israeli Armed Forces.

The Heron TP UAV, a derivative of the Israeli Eitan UAV in use by the Israeli armed forces for over a decade, is the result of a collaborative program led by the UAV Executive Office within the Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) of the Israel Ministry of Defense (IMoD), Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), and Airbus DS Airborne Solutions, a subsidiary of Airbus Group. An agreement to this effect was signed in June 2018, encompassing the leasing of several UAVs, along with maintenance and training services. Consequently, German Air Force personnel have engaged in joint training initiatives alongside their Israeli counterparts at an Israeli Air Force base.

The Heron TP, developed by the Malat (UAV) division of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), is classified as a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). Its design specifically caters to strategic missions, excelling at operations conducted at medium altitudes over extended durations. This feature makes it well-suited for various mission profiles across air, land, and naval domains, and it is currently in service with the Israeli Air Force.

One of the defining characteristics of the Heron TP is its adaptability as a multi-role platform, capable of accommodating a range of mission types. This includes intelligence gathering, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance, with the ability to switch payloads to suit various mission requirements.

The Heron TP offers flexibility in terms of payload integration and can be equipped with a diverse array of payloads, including an HD Electro-Optical Payload, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Communications Intelligence (COMINT), Electronic Support Measures (ESM), and more. The drone features an Automatic Taxi-Takeoff and Landing (ATOL) system, the inclusion of triple redundant avionics, satellite communication (SATCOM) for extended operational range, and supports data links for both Line-of-Sight (LOS) and Beyond Line-of-Sight (BLOS) missions. 

The Heron TP is powered by a 1,200 hp PT6 Turbo Prop engine, offering the capability to remain airborne for over 30 hours. Operating at altitudes exceeding 45,000 ft and covering distances beyond 1,000 km due to its Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) capabilities, it is ideal for missions spanning large areas and can reach a maximum speed of 407 km/h. The Heron TP is characterized by its maximum take-off weight of 5,670 kg, a maximum payload weight of 2,700 kg, an overall length of 14 m, and a wingspan of 26 m.