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Switzerland takes delivery of controversial Israeli surveillance drones

Keystone / Georgios Kefalas

The first two Hermes 900 HFE reconnaissance drones have arrived in Switzerland and are expected to be operational by mid-2022.

This content was published on April 29, 2022 - 12:58
Keystone-SDA/ac

The delivery was announced by the Federal Office of Armaments (armasuisse) on Friday. 

The unmanned aircraft, as well as the two ground control stations, were shipped from Israel. Various maintenance materials and subassemblies have also been delivered.

The first UAV has already been assembled and they will undergo a functional check before the first flight tests in mid-May. They will then be handed over to the air force in the second half of the year. Four more UAVs will be delivered by the end of 2023.

Total cost of the six drones is around CHF250 million (around $256 million at the time) and they are expected to be operational for 20 years.

Eye in the sky

In March, the first pilots of the Swiss Air Force and armasuisse successfully completed the basic training for the new drone system in Israel.

The Hermes 900 HFE (also known as ADS 15) is an unmanned and unarmed reconnaissance system. The drone are nine metres long with a wingspan of 17 metres. The drone system can be used both during the day and at night and can detect aircraft, other drones and missiles. The six drones will be used, among other things, to monitor borders, search for missing persons in the mountains or assess a situation after a natural disaster.

Switzerland currently has no more reconnaissance drones. The Ranger ADS 95 was decommissioned in November 2019 after 20 years of use. The border guards currently use helicopters.

Controversies

Even before arriving in Switzerland, the drones manufactured by the Israeli firm Elbit Systems, generated controversy. In 2015, when the purchase was approved by parliament, there were criticisms about the purchase of Israeli military technology.

In January, a senate committee issued a report stating that the purchase represents a "considerable risk" for Switzerland. The project has been delayed for almost three years, mainly due to the crash of a drone during a test flight in 2020. The company has since been able to rectify the technical problem, without changing the design of the drones.

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