Germany on 28 June signed a preliminary agreement with Israel’s IAI to rent five Heron TP remotely piloted air systems (RPAS) for €580M, de facto confirming the project announced in January by Germany’s defence minister, Ursula von Der Leyen. Berlin based its choice on the experience it has acquired with the Heron 1 which has flown almost 25,000 hours in Afghanistan.
Renting the Heron TP is merely an interim solution whilst awaiting the arrival of a European RPAS in around 2025, a project which Germany would like to manage. Even if technical discussions seem well advanced, a contract signature is not expected until the end of this year.
As was the case for the Heron 1, the industrial intermediary between the German government and IAI is Airbus Defence and Space. If Berlin decides to sign a contract identical to the previous one, then the Airbus teams will remain in charge not only of the systems’ maintenance but also the exploitation. Operations will be in the hands of the 2nd squadron Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 51 “Immelmann” based in Jagel (northern Germany).
Apart from some technical similarities to the Heron 1, which should facilitate training of the operators, the choice of the Heron TP gives the German armed forces a considerable capacity boost. This RPAS can carry a payload of 2 tonnes instead of 250 kg and has a range of 7,000km instead of the Heron 1’s 350 km range.
According to a German source quoted by the online Israeli media Ynet, this contract could include the possibility of arming the RPAS and deploy it from Israel as early as 2018 after initial training in Germany. The strategic location of Israel vis-à-vis the major security threats of today and the possibility of by-passing the thorny question of integrating an RPAS of this size in German airspace could be the reasons for this choice, Ynet explains.