Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Herons in Afstan

Wherever they were first delivered almost two months ago (lots of links at this post), they're now in theatre [photo added, not necessarily version we have]. It's revealing how fast military equipment can be acquired when there's a political imperative, the Manley report in this case:
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan [CP] - Canada's soldiers in Afghanistan have new eyes in the sky.

The first of several Heron pilotless spy drones were unveiled Wednesday shortly after their arrival at Kandahar Airfield, where they will soon be keeping tabs on the Taliban from above.

The drones - also [properly] known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs - will help coalition forces ferret out Taliban fighters planting roadside bombs or planning ambushes, Canadian Forces officials say.

The commander of Canada's air wing, Col. Christopher Coates, said the Herons can stay in the air much longer than the current crop of unmanned surveillance planes.

"The UAV that we're using right now ... deals with a smaller area for a shorter period of time, measured in a few hours at most, whereas this UAV could be in the air for more than a day," Coates said.

"If the enemy hears the small UAV, which is possible, then maybe he'll stop what he's doing. He knows he only has to stop for a short period of time. That's impossible with this UAV."

The Air Force will use the unarmed tactical drones for intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Two Taliban fighters were killed earlier this week [not by the Herons, which one might infer from the story; they are unarmed] after drones spotted them planting explosives in a culvert not far from where six Canadian soldiers were killed recently in a pair of separate roadside bomb attacks.

Acquiring the pilotless spy planes was a key condition of the Manley commission report last winter for keeping soldiers in Afghanistan until 2011.

The Herons were needed to replace the Sperwer tactical drones [see end of this post], which have been used in Afghanistan since 2003 but are rapidly becoming outdated and short of spare parts.

The Conservative government has dithered about replacing the Sperwers. Cabinet rejected a proposal last year to buy U.S.-made Predator drones because the contract would have been awarded to a single firm.

The federal government is spending $95 million to lease the Herons for at least two years from B.C.-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates.

Some drones will be kept at Kandahar Airfield while others will remain at military bases in Canada for training.

Mark Levack, MDA's site manager at Kandahar Airfield, said the drones are well suited for longer patrols above vast stretches of Afghan terrain.

"It provides the commander in the field with a long endurance surveillance capability over a wider area," Levack said.

Besides the Herons, Canada has also leased the smaller Scan Eagle drones from Boeing at a cost of $14 million.
Now, if you want slow getting into service...

Meanwhile, looks like Russians are interested in Israeli UAVs too, Herons can't be that bad:
Russia Says It May Buy Remotely Piloted Spy Planes From Israel
Update: Photo of an MDA Heron (via Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs):


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