This week the Israeli Air Force (IAF) held a ceremony spotlighting the “operational acceptance” of its biggest unmanned aerial vehicle, the 4.5-ton Heron TP, or “Eitan.” The far-flying UAV, with a wingspan almost as long as a 737 airliner, appeared on the runway with a comparatively diminutive F-15 alongside it.
But how will Israel use them? The Eitan can carry a ton of payload and can reach Iran’s nuclear facilities, which the United Nations last week determined is hiding an active weapons program. But that does not mean these will be used as bombers. The IAF has been buying and upgrading airplanes specifically for long-distance strikes such as a potential attack against Iran. At least 50 F-15 Raam and F-16 Soufa aircraft have been converted by installing extra fuel tanks for greater range and countermeasures to defeat radar and missiles. So maybe the warplane/UAV tag team presented at the “operational acceptance ceremony” speaks to how manned and unmanned aircraft will work together on missions: The drone provides information while the manned airplanes drop the guided munitions. (Click here to read the Popular Mechanics coverage on this issue)
Some interesting nuggets of information:
- Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters) making them the size of passenger jets. It weighs nearly 4.5 tons.
- The Eitan can carry a ton of payload and can reach Iran’s nuclear facilities (repeated from 2nd paragraph above)
- The planes can fly 20 consecutive hours, and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying payloads.
- It could provide surveillance, jam enemy communications and connect ground control and manned air force planes.
- Apart from long range, long endurance Intelligence, Surveillance and Target Acquisition Reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions, Eitan is designed to execute a large variety of operational missions, including aerial refueling and strategic missile defense.
- The Heron TP has been in development for about a decade, but the aircraft first saw action during Israel’s offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip just over a year ago. The IAF already rushed this UAV into action during the 2008–’09 war in Gaza, so the ceremony really served as a reminder to Iran that its drone fleets can reach the nation.
Israel considers Iran a strategic threat because of its nuclear program, long-range missiles and repeated references by its leaders to the Jewish state’s destruction.
Israel has hinted at the possibility of a military strike against Iran if world pressure does not halt Tehran’s nuclear program. Israel and the U.S. believe Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons; Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.
Israeli companies are considered world leaders in drone technology and now export unmanned aircraft to a number of armies, including U.S.-led forces that have used them in Iraq and Afghanistan.
FYI – Back in 2009, TransportGooru brought to you an article published by the Esquire magazine that explored the use of UAVs in the United States armed forces in the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. Click here to learn more about the UAVs in the United States military.
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