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Swiss Air Force receives first two ADS 15 Hermes 900 recon drones

Swiss Air Force Hermes 900 ADS 15 UAS
Photo: Swiss defense ministry

The Swiss Air Force has officially taken delivery of its first two Elbit Systems-built Hermes 900 medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAS, which will be known as ADS 15 in Swiss service.

The reconnaissance systems were handed over to the service after they first arrived in Switzerland in April last year.

With the official handover, the air force can start building up operational capabilities on the system before the remaining four drones are handed over by the end of 2023.

ADS 15 received the airworthiness approval from the MAA military aviation authority in December 2022, after intensive ground and flight tests with the two delivered systems.

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 have to fly with an escort aircraft in uncontrolled airspace.

Due to the delays in the delivery, the Swiss defense procurement agency armasuisse and Elbit Systems negotiated further services, such as the certification of the de-icing system, the defense ministry said.

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.

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.