Airbus Defence and Space has signed a contract with the German Defence Procurement Agency (BAAInBw) to provide Heron 1 surveillance drones to support the Bundeswehr mission in Mali.
The arrangement is similar to the one adopted in Afghanistan since 2010 — the unmanned aerial systems will be leased from Israeli manufacturer IAI and placed in service by Airbus. As in Aghanistan, military missions will be flown solely by military personnel. The operations in Mali will start in November 2016 and are initially planned to continue until February 2018. Airbus says the fleet availability in Afghanistan has been higher than 95 percent.
On 1st July 2016, the Bundeswehr took over responsibility for reconnaissance activities in Mali from the Netherlands. Within the scope of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), German activties are primarily focused on the Gao region. The current threat scenarios and the size of the area of operations – the north of Mali is more than twice the size of Germany – require a long-endurance surveillance system.
This extension of the Heron 1 operational model is also seen as paving the way for the next-generation Heron TP, which has been selected by the German Bundeswehr Chief of Staff to succeed the Heron 1 and bridge the gap until the arrival of a future European drone.