TEL AVIV – After signing a $100,000 deal with Israel, Germany carried out its first successful mission last week in Mali using the Israeli-made Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
The agreement with Airbus Defense and Space would allow Germany to lease three Israeli-made Heron drones until February 2018 as part of its role in the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, The Jerusalem Post reported.
“The first flight is an important step to obtain the declaration of full operational capability,” Airbus said in a statement.
When the contract is up, Germany intends to lease the more sophisticated Heron TP UAVs to the tune of $650 million, a spokeswoman for Israel’s Aerospace Industries told the Post.
The drones are employed by Germany to secure the perimeter of the United Nations MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) in addition to gathering intelligence on different terror groups operating in the West African country.
Mali’s border with Mauritania and Algeria has become a terror hub since French and Malian forces forced al-Qaida and other terror groups out of Timbuktu over three years ago.
MINUSMA has seen more than 30 troops killed over the past year, more than in any other UN peacekeeping mission, the report said.
The Heron 1, a medium-altitude and long-term endurance craft, is equipped with satellite data-link and electro-optical infrared sensors, and as such can track explosives on the ground and in the air.
Airbus will oversee all maintenance of the UAVs while Germany will be in charge of analyzing data. In its statement, Airbus said all “reconnaissance results are made available to the joint evaluation center of the MINUSMA Mission, contributing to increased security for all employees involved.”
MINUSMA has also signed a contract with Thales UK to operate the Israeli-made Elbit Hermes 900s, a UAV which was used during Israel’s 2014 conflict with Hamas in Gaza. The UAV, which has a maximum payload of 350 kg and is able to stay airborne for 36 hours, was also used during the 2015 World Cup in Brazil.
Israel is a leading exporter of drones, with IAI and Elbit selling UAVs to countries including Australia, South Korea, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Mexico and Singapore, according to reports.