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After delays, Switzerland receives first Hermes 900 UAS

Swiss air force Hermes 90 ADS 15 UAS
A Swiss Air Force ADS 15 UAS arriving in Emmen, Switzerland. Photo: Swiss defense ministry

The first two Israeli-built Hermes 900 unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have arrived in Switzerland after years of delays.

Referred to as the ADS 15 by the Swiss Air Force, the medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAS arrived from Israel, where they were built by Elbit Systems, on April 21 and 26.

The delivery of the first two systems will be followed by the arrival of the remaining four systems by the end of 2023, the defense ministry said.

The UAS are now set to undergo flight tests before being handed over to the air force later this year.

According to the original schedule, the ADS 15 had been expected to arrive in Switzerland by 2019. Part of the reason for the delays was the 2020 crash of one of the drones that was set for delivery to Switzerland during a test flight in Israel. The UAS was a write-off, and the costs from the loss were taken over by Elbit.

Another issue that the program encountered concerns the sense and avoid radars that had initially been expected to be installed onboard the UAVs. The original radars were to be delivered to Elbit Systems by a Dutch company. However, the Dutch government revoked its export license in 2016, in a move that the Swiss defense procurement agency described as “unexpected.”

The radar for the sense-and-avoid system is expected to be approved separately by 2024. Until then, the drones will only be used in uncontrolled airspace and during the day with an escort aircraft.

Photo: Swiss defense ministry

First ADS 15 flight in Switzerland in mid-2022

After the two drones complete functional tests, they are expected to start ground and flight tests in mid-2022. Should everything go according to plan, they will be handed over to the air force in the second half of the year.

ADS 15 will provide the Swiss Air Force with over-the-horizon, persistent multi-mission, multi-payload capabilities with a payload carrying capacity of 350 kg. It is capable of performing missions for area dominance and persistent intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR), and has been selected by 12 countries to date, according to Elbit.

In Swiss service, it is replacing the RUAG ADS-95 Ranger UAS, which was retired in 2019. As noted by the Swiss defense ministry, the Ranger offered capability based on technology from the 1980s.

The ADS 15 is expected to have a service life of 20 years. The 250-million franc contract signed between Switzerland and Elbit Systems in 2015 also includes ground components, simulators and logistics.