Thales UK is now operating an Elbit Systems Hermes 900 medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned air vehicle (UAV) from Timbuktu airport in support of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The Thales team leader in Timbuktu told IHS Jane's that MINUSMA signed a contract with the company in December 2015 to operate Hermes 900 UAVs for three years with an option for a further two years.
The contract covers the deployment of three aircraft (two for operational duties, the third as a spare) with two control stations and flight crews to allow the simultaneous use of both aircraft. The UAVs are equipped with the Elbit DCOMPASS payload with day and infrared cameras.
The Thales team began arriving in Mali in June, with the first UAV following in early July, when test flights were conducted. The first operational flight took place on 13 July.
With only one Hermes 900 present in Timbuktu, the Thales team only has an initial operating capability, but should move to full operational capability (FOC) in September with the arrival of the remaining aircraft.
At present, the Hermes 900 is cleared to conduct flights of up to eight hours at ranges of up to 600 km. Once FOC is achieved, this duration will be extendable to over 10 hours, although if required, the aircraft could be kept in the air longer as the type's maximum endurance is 36 hours.
The UAVs will be controlled by MINUSMA's civilian leadership rather than its military commanders. Their primary mission will be to conduct flights in support of civilian operations, such as providing surveillance for humanitarian convoys.
MINUSMA's military force can, however, request support from the UAVs for specific taskings when required. Indeed, the first aircraft provided limited support during Operation 'Medica', which took place between 15-19 July in the vicinity of the town of Bambara-Maoudé in MINUSMA's Sector West.
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