The RAAF’s Heron remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) detachment’s mission to Afghanistan has ended following the final mission being flown on November 30.
The detachment was established at Kandahar in August 2009 following a rapid acquisition program called Project Nankeen which resulted in the IAI Heron being selected through an initial partnership with the Canadian forces, and with contractor support from Canadian firm MacDonald Detwiller & Associates (MDA). Crews initially trained in Canada in July 2009 before posting straight into theatre with the system.
In the five years of the detachment, 15 rotations comprising 490 ADF personnel from all three services have cycled through Kandahar Airfield to operate the Heron and its ground control segment. In that time, the three aircraft have flown a total of more than 27,000 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission hours in support of Australian and coalition ground operations.
“The Australian Heron capability forged a fine reputation among our American and other Coalition partners here in ISAF as a result of our can-do attitude and the capabilities of this aircraft,” Heron Rotation 15 Commanding Officer, WGCDR Phillip ‘Budgie’ Parsons said in a statement.
“From Heron’s first days supporting the Special Operations Task Group through to the end of Australia’s mission in Uruzgan province last year and support to ISAF units throughout 2014, Heron has provided commanders on the ground with information they needed to fight and keep their people safe.”
Chief of Joint Operations, VADM David Johnston added, “This final flight marks the end of a dedicated and well-executed mission that has been pivotal in keeping our personnel safe, minimising the risk to civilians on the ground and achieving our Operation SLIPPER mission. Defence personnel from all services who have deployed with Heron can hold their heads high for further developing the capability of the ADF to employ the RPA, while forging and maintaining a strong reputation for professionalism among the ADF as well as with our international partners.”
The Heron mission was extended for two additional six month tours late last year after the withdrawal of Australian ground forces from Afghanistan. More recently, it was announced two Herons will be retained for a further six years until 2020, during which concepts of operation will be developed in preparation of the planned arrival of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton UAS.
“The additional Heron aircraft will provide greater opportunities for training, and the development of robust tactics, techniques and procedures for operating complex UAS platforms, as well as the integration into Australian airspace,” Defence Minister Senator David Johnston said in an October 28 statement.
“The retention of two Heron aircraft will help create a robust development program to ensure RAAF is well prepared for the government’s investment in the MQ-4C Triton.”
It is expected all Heron detachment personnel and equipment will have returned to Australia by the end of December.