‘Heron’ UAV end-force… step by step approach
Over the past few years Defence has introduced into service a number of new platforms and capabilities into the Australian Air Force, along with a range of capability enhancements to existing platforms. These milestones continue to mark the transformation of the RAAF from the platform-centric organisation it was in the late 1990s, at the time of the East Timor operations, towards the 5th generation, networked and interoperable full-spectrum force of tomorrow.
When the Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) returned from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 the RAAF embarked on a programme to incrementally ‘normalise’ unmanned air vehicle operations within the domestic airspace nationally.
Although based at Amberley as part of the Surveillance and Response Group (SRG), No 5 Flight began flying its Heron platforms from Woomera, taking advantage of the relatively ‘empty’ skies and vast areas of unpopulated land.
The aim was to establish an indigenous unmanned Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability within the safest environment.
Since then, Heron operations have progressed to the point at which they have been flown in both civil and military airspace on exercises. To prove their compatibility with manned aircraft operations they have shared the traffic pattern military aircraft, including F/A-18F Super Hornets and C-17A Globemasters, along with civil airliners.
Heron unmanned aerial system was initially acquired in 2009 under Project Nankeen, which was a rapid acquisition programme to provide urgently needed ISR overwatch of Australian and coalition forces ‘outside the wire’ in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan.
Heron is a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) RPA, capable of providing constant ISR coverage spanning a 24 hour period. In Afghanistan, it replaced the ScanEagle capability that had been leased from Insitu Pacific Limited (IPL).