The German government has approved a contract amendment that would allow the country’s armed forces to lease another Heron 1 unmanned aerial system (UAS) for operations in Mali.
Germany is already contributing to the United Nations MINUSMA mission in Mali with three UAS and two ground control stations.
The planned contract amendment with Airbus will bring the number of available UAS to four and the number of ground stations to three, ensuring the availability of two Herons for simultaneous operations at all times.
Germany has been leasing the Israel Aerospace Industries-built Heron 1 UAS for operations in Afghanistan and Mali since 2010. This was done through a leasing contract with Airbus DS Airborne Solutions GmbH, a subsidiary of Airbus Defence and Space.
The new contract with Airbus, who will be responsible for the provision, maintenance and repair of the Heron 1 and the ground control stations, will run until the end of April 2024. The reconnaissance systems are operated by Bundeswehr soldiers.
Germany is boosting the number of unmanned systems deployed in case one of them is lost during operations or experiences a malfunction. In November 2020, a German Heron crashed east of Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. This was not the only such incident, and follow another one from 2013, when the Taliban reportedly hacked the UAS and brought it down in Badakshan. Germany lost further two Herons in 2010.
The country initially leased the UAS as an interim measure as it expected to complete development of its own unmanned ISR aircraft after sinking $700 million into the Euro Hawk program.
According to the latest announcements, Germany is teaming up with France, Italy and Spain on the European MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System). This new unmanned system replace the Heron 1 and Heron TP UAS that are currently operated by the German Air Force.