VICTORIA, Australia — Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) says it has spoken with the Royal Australian Air Force about its Heron TP medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial system (MALE UAS).

Australia currently operates the Heron 1 UAS, which recently returned from operations in Afghanistan and is now being used to inform the future purchases of unmanned aerial systems, including the high-altitude, long-endurance Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, which will be acquired under Project Air 7000 phase 1B.

Heron TP, a 5.3-ton (11,600-pound) aircraft, can carry a payload of up to one ton. It is currently in service with the Israeli Air Force.

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Doren Horesh, a senior IAI director in charge of marketing in the Asia-Pacific region, said the company was keen to offer Heron TP to the Australian Defence Force as an alternative to the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper.

Although there is no program of record at the present time, the Australian government is expected to include a MALE UAS replacement for Heron in the Defence White Paper and subsequent Defence Capability Plan, which is due to be released mid-year.

Earlier this week, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence Darren Chester announced that the RAAF has begun training aircrew and support staff on U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper operations in the United States.

"Unmanned aerial systems are an advancing technology with a proven record of providing 'eyes in the sky' in the Middle East region," Chester said. "It would be remiss of Australia not to continue to develop our knowledge of this technology to ensure we are able to gain the greatest benefit from unmanned aerial systems and the best protection for our troops on future operations."

Australia's Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, has expressed an interest in an armed UAS capability. At the Australian International Air Show at Avalon today, he said a lot of capabilities were being considered by a force structure review as part of the White Paper process.

"We've got to work out what the funding envelope is and a MALE UAV is definitely in that mix [but] it has to survive the prioritization," he said. "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be armed."

Nigel Pittaway is the Australia correspondent for Defense News.

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