TEL AVIV — The Israel Air Force (IAF) plans to double by the end of 2016 its force strength of heavy-hauling Heron TP unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by the end of 2016 along with the missions entrusted to the strategic, combat-capable system, according to the service’s official Hebrew-language monthly magazine.
In its latest editions, the IAF magazine reports that the service's White Eagle Squadron of Heron TPs, known here as Eitan, is set to double its inventory and personnel, while mission capabilities are slated to grow at "an unprecedented rate."
The service declared its White Eagle squadron operational in 2010 after at least two of its 1one-ton payload-carrying Eitans made their initial debut in the Cast Lead Gaza campaign that ended just days before US President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.
Produced by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the 4.5-ton aircraft with its 26-meter wingspan flies autonomously for 60 hours, at a stretch, performing all-weather, sensor-to-shooter networked operations and a variety of special missions.
The German Defense Ministry announced in January that the Bundeswehr had decided to lease three to five armed versions of the Heron TP — instead of the US Predator B — with deployment scheduled to begin in 2018.
"In the last year, we started to absorb new capabilities and additional intelligence missions and in the coming year we will further expand," Lt. Col. Ofir, White Eagle squadron commander, told the magazine.
According to Ofir, whose last name was withheld from publication due to security constraints, the IAF today utilizes only 20 percent of Eitan's mission potential.
"We're only at the beginning of a revolution," the squadron commander said.
"The IAF commander has defined doubling the squadron in terms of order of battle, personnel, missions and capabilities, with the overarching goal being that this strategic squadron will be relevant to all operational theaters and every [mission] area," the officer said.
Ofir , the IAf officer, added that by 2020, the White Eagle squadron should triple in size, while existing systems are slated for upgrading.
The IAF Magazine also reported that the service is operating a UAV training school for international cooperation partners. In addition to the US and Thailand, which the magazine cited as previous participants in UAV training, it noted that Germany is expected to begin training for Heron TP operations.