The Australian Air Force will withdraw Heron remotely piloted aircraft from service by the end of this year.
A replacement capability is being acquired through Project AIR 7003 and is scheduled to be delivered after 2020. Project AIR 7003 will deliver an armed medium altitude long endurance unmanned aircraft system, the RAAF said in a statement Tuesday.
Air Force has taken steps to retain and further develop knowledge and experience, including embedding personnel in the US Air Force flying the MQ-9 Reaper.
These personnel will form the core of the future ADF capability to be delivered by AIR 7003.
The Heron flew its last mission from RAAF Base Tindal during Exercise Diamond Storm on June 23. During Diamond Storm, Heron completed 17 sorties in support of the Air Warfare Instructor Course in an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance electronic warfare (ISREW) role.
No. 5 Flight is set to be disbanded at the end of the year. The aircraft has played a pivotal role in Air Force’s ability to deliver air-land integration effects in support of our national security interests including in Afghanistan, where it completed more than 27,000 mission hours during Operation Slipper.
CO 5FLT WGCDR Lee Read said it was immensely satisfying to end with such a successful involvement in Exercise Diamond Storm.
Air Force has regularly operated the Heron aircraft in restricted military air space from RAAF Base Woomera. The Woomera community has always welcomed 5FLT; this year the hospitality moved to the cricket pitch, where locals and Air Force members challenged each other to two matches.
One focus for the ADF has been to continue to see Heron operations integrated into airspace rather than accommodated, through the normalisation of operating the remotely-piloted aircraft ops in both military and civil airspace.
“We now have a cadre of some 150 ADF remote pilots and sensor operators who have gained significant experience in Heron operations. Further, we have integrated the Ground Mission System with some 300 intelligence support personnel into the crewed ISREW construct,” WGCDR Read said.
“We have learned many lessons from the unit’s operations and we need to provide that input back into a future capability – whatever that may look like.”