Remotely piloted aircraft Heron has officially been withdrawn from service with the Royal Australian Air Force.
Australia initially leased the Heron unmanned aerial system (UAS) to fill a capability requirement to support land force operations in Afghanistan.
The Heron flew its last mission from RAAF Base Tindal during Exercise Diamond Storm on 23 June. During this exercise, Heron completed 17 sorties in support of the Air Warfare Instructor Course in an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance electronic warfare (ISREW) role.
Australia's Herons, which are set to be disbanded at the end of the year, played a pivotal role in the RAAF’s ability to deliver air-land integration effects in support of Australia's national security interests including in Afghanistan, where it completed more than 27,000 mission hours during Operation Slipper.
After its last operational mission from Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on 30 November 2014, Heron then made history by flying in civilian airspace for the first time out of Rockhampton airport during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015. This led to the commencement of operations from its home base at RAAF Base Amberley in 2016.
From January 2010 to November 2014, 5FLT, operating as Task Unit 633.2.7, provided ISREW support to Australian forces and International Security Assistance Force partners in southern Afghanistan. About 500 personnel who were deployed as part of the task unit were recognised.
The RAAF has regularly operated the Heron aircraft in restricted military air space from South Australia's RAAF Base Woomera, the largest land-based test and evaluation facility in the world
A replacement for the UAS capability is set to be acquired through Project AIR 7003 with the acquisition of an armed medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAS, which is scheduled to be delivered after 2020.
The RAAF has embedded personnel in the US Air Force flying the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper UAS.