Representatives of the governments of Greece and Israel have signed today an agreement for the leasing of Heron I unmanned aerial systems (UAS) configured for maritime surveillance missions. The agreement covers three years of service, including the training of Greek operators. According to previous media reports, the Herons will be based on the island of Crete and will be tasked primarily with border security and maritime surveillance. Herons already operate over the region, since the drone was cleared to operate in civil airspace by Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority in 2007.

“The great security relations between Israel and Greece are expanding,” Head of the International Defense Cooperation Directorate (SIBAT), Brig. Gen. (Res.), Yair Kulas commented, “We see great importance in the choice made by Greece to equip its forces with an Israeli system, particularly during the global corona crisis. This is a clear expression of confidence in the capabilities and strength of the Israeli defense industry. We hope to sign additional agreements with Greece as well as other European partners, assisting them in addressing security challenges – in times of the corona pandemic and beyond.”

The deal has been in the making since 2018, addressing Athens’ growing concern about Turkish drones activity over the Aegean. In recent years Ankara has developed and deployed several types of UAS that took an increasing role in surveillance and combat operations, in Syria and Libya. Some of those drones cover Greece’s territorial waters and Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) from Turkish territory. Since Greece does not produce drones locally, Athens invited known drone manufacturers to demonstrate such systems for its evaluation. In 2018 IAI flew 600 hours with Heron I in support of the European Union’s FRONTEX border agency. In January, General Atomics concluded a 10-day evaluation of its Sea Guardian deployed to Larissa Air Force base in central Greece.

The leasing of Heron I drones provided a timely solution for these urgent operational needs. The agreement provides Athens with an option to buy Heron drones after the three-year lease. In 2018 local media in Greece reported that the deal is worth €35.5 million could cover up to seven aircraft. Current reports mentioned only three aircraft.

General Director of the General Directorate for Defense Investments and armaments, Lieutenant General (retd.) Theodoros Lagios (HAF), on his visit to IAI in 2019. Photo: GDDIA

IAI’s Maritime Heron is equipped with a multi-sensor suite comprised of radar, SIGINT, COMINT, and day and night electro-optical sensors and satellite communications terminal, that enabling operators to cover the entire east Mediterranean sea area on a high-altitude flight path. The maritime Heron was the first maritime surveillance drone to assume operational maritime and coastal surveillance patrols. Since 2017 it has replaced the manned maritime surveillance aircraft in Israel. Several customers have leased Heron drones from IAI, among them Germany, Australia, and Canada. The German Herons are currently deployed to Mali, in support of UN operations in the Sahel. Germany is also leasing the larger Heron TP drones.