Senin, Februari 22, 2010

Israel's Third UAV Squadron to Operate 'Strategic UAV'

Israel's Air Force (IAF) has formally accepted today the Eitan (Heron TP) unmanned aircraft – the largest UAV built in Israel, and the second largest operational UAV in the world. 210 Squadron operating from Tel Nof Air Force base was established specifically for this unique new aircraft. While Eitan is a new aircraft, considered to be among the world's most ophisticated unmanned aircraft, it is answering an operational specification, defined by the IAF over 15 years ago.

"The launching of this airplane is another, substantial landmark in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles. From the humble beginning of their development, with initial operational results during the first Lebanon war, the substantial and professional apparatus now accompanies almost any air force operational frame-work" said Major General Ido Nehushtan, Commander in Chief of the Israel Air Force said during the inauguration ceremony.

The IAF cooperated closely with the industry team in developing the aircraft, headed by IAI as the system development and prime ontractor. The aircraft made its maiden flight in June 2006, three years after the official program 'kickoff'.

The aircraft adds significantly to the operational capabilities of the IAF, primarily in long endurance, long-range missions, offering new capabilities in carrying heavy payloads, on higher and longer missions than most contemporary UAVs. The IAF never confirmed the combat use of weapon-carrying UAVs, although such missions using U.S. weapons are performed by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. One of the UAVs built by the Israelis for the U.S. Army – the Hunter, has already been configured to use weapons and is believed to have been operating on combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The aircraft is designed around an 'open architecture', enabling operators efficiently to introduce new systems and payloads without requiring major changes on the platform." An IAI official told Defense Update, "the airframe combines several payloads located throughout the aircraft, in the fuselage and under the wings, and in a removable 'gondola'-shaped fairing, located under the belly and around the center of gravity (CG), enabling rapid reconfiguration of aircraft for specific missions. Eitan can fly without the Gondola, on 'pure ISR' missions, or perform multifarious missions with multiple payloads, as the mission requires. A distinctive payload is the high power electro-optical system, mounted ahead of the nose landing gear, offering unobstructed hemispherical view for the telescopic thermal camera. This highly stabilized payload, unique to the IAF, offers unprecedented long-range and high altitude performance, sofar provided only by fixed wing aircraft."

Unlike multi-mission jet fighters, designed to perform in a wide operational envelope, Eitan was designed to excel in a specific domain – relatively low speed, medium to high altitude, and long endurance. The aerodynamic design selected for the aircraft has matched these attributes – twin tail with large horizontal stabilizer, the large, unswept wing's airfoil and profile, are optimized for cruising at high altitude. The wide fuselage, contributing to body lift, is further adding to extending endurance in cruising speed.

According to IAF personnel, the large payload capacity of Eitan enabled the IAF to equip the aircraft with sophisticated defensive systems, similar to modern combat aircraft. Some of the systems are visible in different locations around the aircraft. The aircraft has built-in features supporting safe operation in controlled airspace, including several video cameras, on the wing and tail, providing wide field of view for 'see and avoid' flight.

Other sensors like the Interrogator Friend and Foe (IFF) already introduced in the basic platform, provide part of the functionality required for 'sense and avoid' capability. Both sensors are considered mandatory for future flight certification in civil-controlled airspace, currently being formulated by civil aviation authorities in the U.S., Europe and Israel. Furthermore, the payload reserves available in the aircraft also provide for installation of TCAS systems, if required.

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