Air Force declares its newest drone, ‘The Star,’ operational

Air Force declares its newest drone, ‘The Star,’ operational

Hermes 900 UAV first saw combat in 2014 Gaza war, but needed further testing before it could be fully integrated

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

The Israeli Air Force officially declared the Hermes 900 drone operational this week, the army said Wednesday, despite the unmanned aerial vehicle already having seen combat three years ago.

The air force completed the necessary tests and checks on Tuesday, and the Elbit Systems Ltd.’s Hermes 900 drone was deemed fully operational, the army said.

The drone, known in the Israeli military as “Hakochav,” or “The Star,” will join its little brother, the Hermes 450, in the Air Force’s arsenal.

“The Star” is approximately 50 percent larger than “The Spark,” or “Zik,” as the Hermes 450 is known in the IAF. It is nine meters (30 feet) long, as opposed to the Zik’s six meters (20 feet), and it has a wingspan of 16 meters (52 feet), compared to its predecessor’s 10.5 meters (34.5 meters).

That added size means the Hermes 900 can carry additional equipment. The new drone can also remain in the air longer and fly faster than the Zik.

It has a top speed of 220 kilometers per hour (136.7 miles per hour) and can remain in the air for 30 hours at a time, the army said.

“In addition to the many changes, a number of aspects were kept the same as the Hermes 450, like the carriage [from which it is operated], the communication system, the operating methods and maintenance procedures,” the military said in a statement.

The army said this was to allow for a smoother transition as the air force moves from “The Spark” to “The Star.”

Though the Air Force only now declared the Hermes 900 fully operational, one of the drones was used in the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

According to the IDF, it saw its first combat mission on July 15, 2014.

“After Operation Protective Edge, The Star-model unmanned aerial vehicles returned to the orderly integration process,” the army said.

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