Australia Continues Heron I Mission in Afghanistan

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Heron I RPA are operating from Kandahar airbase, Afghanistan and from Woomera Test Range in South Australia, where operators are trained for the missions in Afghanistan. Photo: RAAF, Aaron Curran
Heron I RPA are operating from Kandahar airbase, Afghanistan and from Woomera Test Range in South Australia, where operators are trained for the missions in Afghanistan. Photo: RAAF, Aaron Curran
Heron I RPA are operating from Kandahar airbase, Afghanistan and from Woomera Test Range in South Australia, where operators are trained for the missions in Afghanistan. Photo: Australian defence by Aaron Curran

While coalition forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, the Heron I remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) operated with the Australian Heron Detachment is set to continue providing invaluable Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) information to coalition troops operating inside Afghanistan, well into 2014. Built by Israel Aerospace Industries, the Heron I is leased and operated by the Canadian company MDA.

In November 2013 the Australian Heron detachment marked the 20,000 operational flight hours milestone. The Heron RPAs (newspeak for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or UAV) are flying between 400 to 500 hours each month, performing medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) missions. It can conduct single missions in excess of 24 hours, with a maximum speed of more than 100 knots (180 km/h) at altitudes of up to 10,000 metres.

According to Royal Australian Air Force sources, the decision to extend the Heron mission sees the Tri-Service Detachment working for a new client, ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) Regional Command South. Based at Kandahar Airfield, Heron Detachment’s ongoing tenure in Afghanistan originated from a request from ISAF to the Australian Government.

A Heron returns to Kandahar from a recce mission. On such mission the drone carries an EO/IR and COMING payload. The Australian Air Force Heron detachment operates from the Kandahar Airfield in Southern Afghanistan. Photo: RAAF, Raymond Vance
A Heron returns to Kandahar from a recce mission. On such mission the drone carries an EO/IR and COMING payload. The Australian Air Force Heron detachment operates from the Kandahar Airfield in Southern Afghanistan. Photo: RAAF, Raymond Vance

Heron detachment Payload Operator, Flight Lieutenant Zalie Munro-Rustean, in the Ground Control Station at the Heron compound at Kandahar Airfield. Photo: RAAF Paul Berry
Heron detachment Payload Operator, Flight Lieutenant Zalie Munro-Rustean, in the Ground Control Station at the Heron compound at Kandahar Airfield, 2011. Photo: RAAF Paul Berry

Previously the Herons were supporting exclusively the Australian forces operating in Uruzgan. They will now support coalition forces through their operations in Southern Afghanistan. The Tri-Service Detachment Rotation 13 is expected to return to Australia by mid-year 2014.

Unlike small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the 1.1 tonne Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft is operated from an airfield runway in conjunction with other manned aircraft. The Australian Heron is based at Kandahar, which is anecdotally the busiest single-runway airfield in the world. To ensure the safe and effective operation of the aircraft at such a busy airfield, Air Force uses military pilots who have experience with the complex and dynamic airspace to pilot the Heron.

Pilots qualified on Army helicopters, F/A-18 Hornets, F-111s, AP-3C Orion and C-130J Hercules have deployed and operated the Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft since August 2009. The Heron pilot is supported by a Payload (Sensor) Operator who also acts as co-pilot for the Heron.

In addition, up to seven operational staff process, analyse and disseminate information from the Heron’s sensors. The operational staff may include aircrew, intelligence staff, operations officers, engineering staff, administration officers and logisticians.

In November 2013 the Royal Australian Air Force Air Component completed 20,000 combat flying hours in Afghanistan. In this photo, the unit commander Group Captain Tony McCormack stands alongside members of the Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft Detachment (Rotation 13) that operated the mission on this milestone flight.  Each Heron detachment consists of about 30 ADF personnel based at Kandahar Airfield in Southern Afghanistan. Photo: RAAF Chris Moore
In November 2013 the Royal Australian Air Force Air Component completed 20,000 combat flying hours in Afghanistan. In this photo, the unit commander Group Captain Tony McCormack stands alongside members of the Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft Detachment (Rotation 13) that operated the mission on this milestone flight. Each Heron detachment consists of about 30 ADF personnel based at Kandahar Airfield in Southern Afghanistan. Photo: RAAF Chris Moore
On 1-2 March the RAAF hosted the Centenary of Military Aviation Air Show at RAAF Williams - Point Cook. Among the popular attractions at the show was the Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), displayed in a deployable hangar. Photo: Australian Defence by Aaron Curran
On 1-2 March the RAAF hosted the Centenary of Military Aviation Air Show at RAAF Williams – Point Cook. Among the popular attractions at the show was the Heron Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), displayed in a deployable hangar. Photo: Australian Defence by Aaron Curran