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It’s Official: The “Kochav” is Operational Release date 23.08.2017
Yesterday (Thursday), the “Kochav” (Hermes 900) UAV was officially declared operational upon the completion of its operational integration process
Hadas Levav

Yesterday (Thursday), a series of examinations performed on the “Kochav” (Hermes 900) UAV was completed successfully and it is now operational. The inspection dealt with the aircraft’s operation and maintenance, and the squadron’s flight department’s capability to receive a mission from HQ and complete it successfully, among others. Regarding maintenance, the inspection tested the process of preparing the aircraft for sorties and receiving them upon landing, malfunction management, deployments and operational continuity. “We felt prepared for the inspection”, shared Maj. C, Commander of the Squadron’s Systems Department who also headed the Squadron’s “Kochav” integration team. “Since the ‘Kochav’ arrived, we have all been working towards the moment when we will begin flying operationally, and by doing so, better address the IAF’s missions. We are now closer than ever”.

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A Challenging Process
We have to look at the aircraft’s arrival to its squadron in 2014 in order to understand the integration process. “Its integration was complex”, shared Lt. Col. Daniel, Commander of the Squadron which operates the “Kochav”, among others. “We were required to balance our operational activity and the integration of the new aircraft”. About four years ago, “Kochav” integration teams were established in the Squadron’s Flight and Technical Departments. These teams underwent conversion training for the aircraft with its manufacturer, Elbit Systems.

The aircraft’s integration process included a number of flight and maintenance related challenges. “When we first received the ‘Kochav’, we didn’t have the appropriate infrastructure for it, so we had to improvise”, recalled Capt. Elul. “The ‘Kochav’ is big, and the HAS (Hardened Aircraft Structure) we had wasn’t the correct size. After some creative thinking, we created a conveyor belt that managed to temporarily get the ‘Kochav’ into the HAS”.

“The ‘Kochav’ is the most advanced aircraft in the IAF’s UAV Division, but it is also a new one, with little experience”, explained Lt. Col. Daniel. “We are discovering new things about the platform, and gaining experience as we go along. Walking down an unpaved road is bumpy and difficult, but there is also a great joy in being the first ones to integrate and develop a platform”.

Photography: Mor Tzidon

A Star is Born
Even though the “Kochav” has just now become officially operational, it underwent its operational initiation in 2014, when it participated in Operation “Protective Edge”. When the operation was launched, the IAF made an effort to integrate as many new capabilities as possible into the campaign, the first of which being those the “Kochav” brought. “During Operation ‘Protective Edge’, there was an understanding that there was an operational need for the ‘Kochav’”, recalled Lt. Col. Daniel. “It was integrated at a very early stage, and with a focused effort we got it to perform missions that decade-old platforms in the IAF deal with. That was the moment I understood the IAF’s power. The Kochav’s performance in the operation gave me confidence, and showed me that we were able to meet our expectations”. 

After Operation “Protective Edge”, the “Kochav” stopped participating in operational activity and began an organized integration process. The IAF Flight Test Squadron performed a long series of tests while simultaneously passing on capabilities to the squadron. That is to say, each capability tested and approved for use by the FTS was passed on to the operational squadron for evaluation flights, which then qualified the operators to perform various missions before declaring the platform operational.

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A Quantum Leap
The significant advancements in the “Hermes 900” are its high carrying capacity and large build, which allow it to carry a number of different payloads at once. The aircraft was also built to carry payloads on a number of locations on its wings. “The aircraft’s ability to carry a number of payloads is a great advantage”, explained Capt. Elul. In addition, its endurance capability (up to 36 hours, in accordance with its load) allows for the performance of very long missions at long ranges.

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The First Step
“The squadron takes pride in leading the integration and operation of the ‘Kochav’”, admitted Maj. C. “Throughout the process we had the opportunity to do so much for the first time with the aircraft, and it’s an exciting journey. We remember the first time we flew at a certain height; the first time we successfully flew multiple ‘Kochav’ UAVs from different locations simultaneously; the first time IAF personnel performed the takeoff process on their own”.

“Thinking that declaring operational capability is the finish line, the last step of the process, is an easy mistake to make. The truth is that becoming operational is just the first step”, noted Lt. Col. Daniel. “We took another step that will advance the UAV division, the IAF and IDF”.