TEL AVIV – State-owned Israel Aerospace Industries is debuting at this week's Aero India show in Bangalore an export version of the Israeli Air Force's heavy-hauling Eitan (Steadfast) unmanned aerial system, also known as the Heron TP.

Built around the same airframe as the Heron TP, the new export version — called Heron TP-XP — is designed to carry a 450-kilogram payload rather than the 1-ton carrying capacity operational with the Israeli Air Force.

The reduced payload allows users to carry a full 450-kilogram package of sensors and subsystems for 30 hours at altitudes of 45,000 feet while remaining compliant with Category I thresholds of the Missile Technology Control Regime, or MTCR, IAI executive Shaul Shahar told Defense News on Sunday.

He was referring specifically to thresholds enshrined in the voluntary missile control regime that restricts exports of missiles and delivery vehicles capable of carrying 500-kilogram payloads for more than 300 kilometers. Israel is not a signatory to MTCR; yet, as a matter of policy, it has committed to honor its provisions, particularly with regard to Category I restrictions.

"We wanted to devise a product with some of the unique features of the Heron-TP, but in a system that makes it more accessible to many countries, even those that haven't signed on to the MTCR," Shahar said.

"What we came up with is a product that practically doubles the speed of our Heron-1, is capable of carrying 450 kilograms for 30 straight hours at a speed of 220 knots … and since it now fits into Category II of the MTCR, it presents many more opportunities for export," said Shahar, a former Israeli intelligence officer who is vice president of IAI and general manager of the firm's military aircraft division.

Shahar noted that the new Heron TP-XP should present a compelling alternative to the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, which is operated by the U.S. military and more than a half-dozen countries worldwide. Moreover, he said it offers a strategic complement to the many countries already operating the IAI Heron-1, including India, where the Heron-1 has been operating successfully for many years.

"We are proud to introduce the latest IAI development in the UAV field in India, which is an IAI strategic customer. The Heron TP-XP allows air supremacy at a different level than currently exists in India, with an emphasis on double flight speed, high altitude and enhanced payload capability," Shahar said.

With a 26-meter wingspan akin to a Boeing 707 and a heavy fuel capacity, the Heron TP-XP, Shahar said, "offers unique parameters that you can't have with Heron-1."

When asked about market projections, Shahar demurred, saying the firm only recently received permission from Israeli export authorities to market the system. "Our analyses show that this product will generate significant market interest. But we're at the very early stage of the process, so I don't want to throw out numbers."

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