AIR 7003 contender secures first export customer for new UAS

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has signed a $600 million agreement with the German Defence Ministry to lease its Heron TP medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) RPASs (remotely piloted air vehicle system).

Under the $600 million deal, Airbus DS Airborne Solutions GmbH will serve as the prime contractor responsible for managing all aspects of the project, including operational support and maintenance throughout the term of the agreement.

The nine-year agreement is pending approval of the German federal budget, which is expected in the second half of 2018.

The Heron TP MALE is a high altitude, long endurance, strategic, versatile and multiple-payload RPAS, which features IAI's most advanced technologies. The system has been in service with the Israel Air Force since 2010.

The Heron TP is the strategic variant of the Heron family, which includes the Heron 1, used by the German Air Force since 2010 in Afghanistan and since 2016 in Mali.

Shaul Shahar, IAI EVP and general manager of the military aircraft group, said the German choice of the Heron TP builds on this long-term successful experience.

"We are thrilled and proud of this agreement with the federal Ministry of Defence, a major strategic customer. The Heron TP is a first rate strategic RPAS. Its strong performance will provide Germany with unprecedented air superiority," said Shahar.

"We regard it as a powerful symbol that the technology of Israel's largest defence company will be used in the heart of Germany's defence organisation. IAI and Airbus would like to thank the German government for this vote of confidence built over many years. We are committed to preserving the quality of our service and systems and look forward to continued collaboration."

IAI has offered the Heron TP for Australia's AIR 7003 Phase 1 project, which is seeking to acquire a MALE UAS, colloquially known as self-piloted 'killer drones'.

IAI is up against General Atomics' MQ-9B. GA-ASI has partnered with local Australian partners for its bid to forming Team Reaper, which is made up of Cobham, Raytheon Australia, CAE Australia and Flight Data Systems, TAE Aerospace, Rockwell Collins, Ultra Electronics Australia, Airspeed and Quickstep Holdings.

However, questions around the AIR 7003 Phase 1 project surfaced last year when IAI claimed the Department of Defence was blocking out the company from bidding for the project, which is listed as contestable on the Defence Integrated Investment Program (DIIP).

IAI, which has had representation in Australia for the last 35 years, has been attempting to put forward its Heron TP capability, the armed and improved variant of the recently withdrawn Heron, which has an altitude of up to 45,000 feet and a maximum take off weight of 5,400 kilograms, but the company says the department has all but decided on a FMS of the Reaper.

"All indications are, from the department and particularly from the Air Force, the Air Force wants to sole source it through FMS to General Atomics for their Reaper/Certifiable Predator B variant," Claire Willette, IAI's senior consultant on the project, told Defence Connect last year.

While it is not surprising that the Australian Air Force would favour the same UAS capability as its US ally, the process for acquiring this capability is seemingly lacking due diligence.

"This is one of the problems we have with this process, the lack of transparency," Shahar told Defence Connect last August.

"This is a contestable project, according to the IIP. Now, there [are] two suppliers/two countries companies that [have] this capability to support the requirements in this project. As a company we have a significant footprint all over the world with our product ... We think that we have a solution that can benefit of Australia.

"Because of the lack of transparency in this process, and it's very weird to us because we expect that there will be a process including evaluation, risk analysis, according to all the stages that they need. At the end they can decide to go to sole source, but during the evaluation, we thought that they need to check what other alternatives that are on the table and to have all the data needed to do this analysis.

"If they (RAAF) didn't approach us, and up to now haven’t given us the chance to know what questions need to be answered, what information we need to bring to the table, it means they are moving forward without going through all the right stages in their stated process."

A decision on the project was expected last year but is now anticipated in the coming months.

AIR 7003 contender secures first export customer for new UAS
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