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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Philippine Air Force to Procure Elbit's Hermes 900 Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAV Under Horizon 2 Phase

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been for some time always at the mercy of other allies to provide military assistance in times of crisis. With the Marawi City crisis already more than 2 months, the AFP has called on the United States and Australia to provide surveillance and intelligence gathering assistance for the AFP, which translated to the deployment of US Navy P-3C and Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orions, as well as several RQ-20 Puma small UAVs from the US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines. 

It was made known by a solicitation posted by the US Navy in one of its websites that the Philippines is not new to drone operations, being an operator of the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle small UAV system for quite some time now. It was also noted in many occassions that the AFP is in possession of other UAV systems like the locally made Raptor and Knight Faclon which were used during the Zamboanga Crisis as well as newly delivered RQ-11B Raven small UAVs to the Philippine Marine Corps.

There are also unconfirmed but possibly true reports that the Philippines, with the tutelage of the US Armed Forces, acquired two General Atomics RQ-1 Predator UAVs more than a decade ago, although one was said to have been lost in a crash years ago.

These show that the AFP has seen the use of drones as an effective way of gathering information, and providing support to military forces. But never did we expect something big coming until lately.

The Hermes 900 from Elbit Systems.
Credits to owner of photo.

A photo of an unnamed large Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flying "somewhere in Luzon" was first posted by Pinoy Aviators' Facebook page mid July 2017, which was shared by our community members to MaxDefense for further dissemination to more people. This was met with positive acceptance from the general Filipino public, with many calling for its acquisition.

This was further boosted by news from Flight Global, confirming that Elbit Systems has indeed brought in a Hermes 900 medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) UAV to the Philippines for demonstration. MaxDefense received documents confirming that a Hermes 900 demonstrator was sent in by Elbit Systems, conducted Demonstration Flights at the vicinity of Fernando Air Base in Lipa, Batangas between July 17 to 26, 2017. This was corraborated further by our last post of a Hermes 900 inside a hangar at Fernando Air Base with a high ranking AFP officer with it. said to be taken a day before we posted in @ MaxDefense Philippine group page.

The Hermes 900 as seen here in Fernando Air Base in Batangas (erroneously reported in our Facebook page as Clark Air Base), during its demonstrations for the Armed Forces of the Philippines last July 2017.
Credits to owner of the photo which will need to remain anonymous.

Under Horizon 1 Phase of the AFP Modernization Program, there were no mention of any unmanned aerial vehicle acquisition project in several AFPMP updates and documents received by MaxDefense in the last 1 year except for the Marine Forces Imagery and Targeting Support System (MITSS) awarded to Triton Communications and scheduled for delivery this year. That is why MaxDefense was surprised when a new update was made mentioning the acquisition of what is coined as the "PAF Unmanned Aerial Vehicle" project coinciding with the appearance of the Hermes 900 in the Philippines.

MaxDefense is grateful to its sources for being able to get enough information to confirm that the Philippine Air Force is in the process of acquiring long endurance drones, specifically the Elbit Systems Hermes 900 UAV under the above mentioned project, with a budget amounting to Php 8,470,000,000.00 (US$167.722 million at today's rate).

The Hermes 900 was seen here flying "somewhere in Luzon" last July 2017. MaxDefense believes this is somewhere in Batangas-Laguna area near Fernando Air Base where the demonstrations were made by Elbit Systems to the AFP and other armed services of the government like the Philippine National Police.
Photo taken and credited to Pinoy Aviators' Facebook page.

The Hermes 900 UAV:

Elbit Systems' Hermes 900 is their most advanced UAV on offer, and among Israel's most advanced UAV system. It is described as a medium altitude, long endurance UAV platform that is capable of, and quoting Elbit's own description, "over-the-horizon, persistent multi-mission, multi-payload capabilities" and also "performing missions for area dominance and persistent ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance)".

The Hermes 900 can also be used for surveillance and maritime patrol missions, which was actually the configuration initially offered by Elbit Systems to the Philippine Air Force during ADAS 2014.

Due to its large size and its capacity to carry up to 350 kilograms of payload, the UAV can be equipped with EO/IR/Laser Tracking and Targeting System, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI), Communication Intelligence (COMINT), Communication Jamming (COMJAM), Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), Electronic Warfare (EW), and other payloads.

The Hermes 900 has an endurance of up to 36 hours, and service ceiling of 30,000 feet. Considering that these are the posted figures by Elbit Systems, expect the actual endurance and service ceiling to be greater than that.

Among the countries that use the Hermes 900 are Israel, Chile, Mexico, and recently Switzerland acquired 6 units to replace older and less capable UAVs in their fleet. Should the PAF acquire this, they will be in possession of the most capable UAV system in the region.

The Hermes 900 as seen here (illustration, not actual photo) conducting maritime patrol missions. This same photo was posted by MaxDefense in 2015 to describe the PAF's Flight Plan 2028.
Photo taken from Elbit System's website.

Working System:

Being from the same family of UAVs employing the same characteristics and systems, both the Hermes 900 and the smaller Hermes 450 can work together simultaneously, and can be operated almost seamlessly. They are operated on a Universal Ground Control Station, and includes other systems like a Ground Data Terminal and Ground Support Equipment as part of the package.

Both UAVs are designed to be operated by a relatively small crew and a small logistics footprint feature. It is advanced enough to also have greater autonomy with need for minimal supervision from controllers, and its flight path can be set with multiple options available.

It also has autonomous take-off and landing capabilities which will make it easier for controllers to safely operate.

As mentioned by our sources, despite being large enough to carry small precision guided munitions, the Hermes 900 is not configured for attack missions. Thus any strike mision would be handled by the PAF's Close Air Support aircraft (OV-10 and hopefully EMB-314 Super Tucano), Attack Helicopters (AW-109E, MD-520MG and another helicopter model that will arrive early next year and MaxDefense will decline to name for now as requested by PAF sources), Surface Attack Aircraft (FA-50PH), and the future Multi-Role Fighter will be conducting.

A typical ground control station used by the Hermes 450 UAV. It is possible that the Hermes 900 may use a similar system due to its development based on the Hermes 450.
Photo taken from Israe Weapons website.

UAV Acquisitions for the Philippine Air Force:

The Philippine Air Force has a requirement for what it calls the Land-Based Unmanned Aerial System which is a joint project with the General Headquarters, Armed Forces of the Philippines (GHQ-AFP). Based on the latest version of the Horizon 2 phase list submitted to Malacanang, the requirement is for at least 8 systems, although it was not specified what type.

The intention of the UAV acquisition is to provide maritime and ground surveillance requirements and would be working together with the Long Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA), which the first two units are still pending acquisition after a second bidding failure recently. It is expected to be operated by the 300th Air Intelligence and Security Group.

It would also be part of the AFP's C4ISTAR system, thus the joint acquisition with GHQ-AFP.

Originally it was not the intention to front-load the Land-Based UAS acquisition due to other compelling needs in the AFP. But the thread of terrorism including the Marawi City crisis and ISIS-related threats, narcotics trade and proliferation and cross-border crime and terrorism has given the Philippine government a reason to push through with the acquisition to provide the AFP with sufficient surveillance capabilities. The delays on the LRPA project did not help the situation either.

The current project, now simply called PAF Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, is among the first Horizon 2 projects to be implemented for acquisition and has an allocated budget of Php 8.47 billion.

MaxDefense sources made it known that the project, in close coordination with Israel's Ministry of Defense, considered only Israeli-made UAVs which included Elbit's Hermes 450 and Hermes 900, and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron 1. In the end, the PAF chose the Hermes 900, the newest and most capable of the choices. The demonstration of the Hermes 900 UAVs last July 2017 in Fernando Air Base, Batangas, culminated the decision to choose the Hermes 900 and to approve its acquisition.

Four UAVs are to be acquired under Horizon 2 phase, and it appears that based on the quantity and ABC, each complete set of Hermes 900 including the undetermined sensors package, integrated logistics support (ILS), training, support equipment and other ancillaries will cost around Php 2.12 billion (US$41.93 million) each. This means that the Hermes 900 will cost more than the PAF's FA-50PH Fighting Eagle!

In comparison, MaxDefense sources confirmed that three (3) Hermes 450 can be acquired for Php 1 billion as of 2012, but considering inflation and cost escalations, we believe that the price may be somewhere near Php 400 million each for the Hermes 450 by now.

Elbit Systems first offered the Hermes 900 during ADAS 2014 as a maritime patrol solution for the country, although they have been offering the smaller Hermes 450 to the PAF since 2012.

The acquisition will be a Government-to-Government (G-to-G) with the State of Israel, which means that no more bidding will be made for this acquisition. Based on latest information, the approval from the Secretary of National Defense was only made on the 3rd week of July 2017, and was submitted for approval by President Duterte on the same week. It is expected that the President will approve it since he mentioned about the acquisition a few days later, which was picked up by some media outlets.

Absorption and Integration into the PAF and AFP:

MaxDefense believes this is the main concern on bringing in the Hermes family of UAVs, especially the Hermes 900.

Except for the reported Boeing Insitu ScanEagles in PAF service, which MaxDefense sources from even those involved in the Philippine Air Force's surveillance systems itself cannot confirm to be available, the PAF never had a UAV of the same size and capability as the Hermes 900, or even the smaller Hermes 450. If the ScanEagles aren't even really available, then the concept of UAV operations might be something the PAF is not really experienced and familiar with yet.

Despite some MaxDefense sources corraborating the reported ScanEagle UAVs in PAF service since some years ago, its still a shady and difficult to really confirm. So its also difficult to say if the PAF really has experience in operating drones, however simpler they are compared to the Hermes 900.
Credits to owner of photo.

So the ability of the PAF to absorb the new assets will be something worth looking at. How much support will Israel or Elbit Systems provide to the PAF to allow the smooth transition of PAF UAV operators to the platform? And how much time does it need for the PAF to be fully operational with these UAVs?

A good example can be seen on a neighbouring country, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), who has the most experience in ASEAN in operating drones as well as manned patrol aircraft. But based on open sources, it took them almost 5 years to be fully operational with their Heron 1 UAVs, despite operating smaller UAVs like the IAI Searcher since 1994. The IAI Heron 1, also from Israel, are slotted somewhere between the Hermes 450 and Hermes 90 in terms of size, endurance, payload and overall capability.

Meanwhile, the PAF has no operating manned surveillance aircraft with sensors except for the FLIRs mounted on the newly acquired AW-109E Power armed helicopters that the PAF has only been operating for 2 years. Also, RSAF has a more stringent training system and more experience than the PAF and yet it took them that long to attain that status.

It would be very disappoiting if the PAF won't be able to maximize the capability of its drones, or worse, damage or destroy them in an accident due to lack of experience.

Decision to go for a Single Platform:

No doubt the Hermes 900 is expensive, and only four units can be acquired with the budget allocated by the PAF. So is it really reasonable to just go for the Hermes 900?

MaxDefense's suggestion is to divide the acquisition to both the Hermes 450 and Hermes 900, as both systems are made to conduct different types of missions. Instead of 4 Hermes 900, MaxDefense recommends to acquire only 3 Hermes 900s, while converting the budget to buy the 4th unit to pay for the acquisition of the smalller, cheaper Hermes 450. Based on the above quotes we posted, at least 5 units of Hermes 450 can be bought for the same price as a single Hermes 900.

The Hermes 900, having more endurance, can be used to patrol the West and East Philippine Seas, as well as other areas in the country's EEZ. Meanwhile, the smaller Hermes 450 can be used for surveillance missions closer to ground, like in conflict areas like Marawi City, and in hunting terrorists in Mindanao and even other parts of the country.

Being from the same manufacturer and developed based on a single system, operating both the Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 would not be difficult as it would be almost seamless to cross over to the each other.

Compared to the newer Hermes 900, the Hermes 450 has been in service for more than a decade now and has been used in combat missions in the Middle East. Its been used by Israel, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Mexico, the UK (under the Watchkeeper Program), US Homeland Security, and closer to home, Singapore.

The Elbit Hermes 450, which is among those offered by Elbit Systems to the Philippine Air Force.
Credits to owner of photo.

Other Concerns:

MaxDefense recently reported that the re-tender for the Long Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA) project has failed, with sources from the PAF and industry confirming that many of the interested proponents found the Approved Budget for Contract to be very low, and is simply not enough to acquire an aircraft with all the bells and whistles the PAF is requesting.

As of last week, MaxDefense was told that the PAF has yet to find a source for the additional budget for them to confidently start direct negotiations with interested proponents.

Instead of pouring too much on UAVs, is it not more practical to reduce the UAV budget and provide a little more for the LRPA project for it to start? Or is it more practical to use the budget to buy more LRPA instead?

The PAF wanted an ASW-capable Long Range Patrol Aircraft and has actually shown obvious preference to Airbus' C-295ASW, but budget is not enough. So why not more LRPAs by using some of the UAV budget?
Photo from Airbus' website.

Another issue is the wisdom of acquiring itself, isnthe Hermes 900 really the best choice for the Philippine Air Force?

Other UAV options are also available which, aside from surveillance capability, also can carry and fire small precision guided munitions for the same price as the Hermes 900. This includes the IAI Eitan (aka Heron TP), which can carry around 1,000 kilograms of precision guided munitions at almost the same price as the Hermes 900. Did the PAF consider them since they are also interested in acquiring Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) in the near future?

IAI's Eitan (aka Heron TP) is said to be priced similarly as the Hermes 900 and has almost the same capability except for also being capable of strike missions with its ability to carry and fire PGMs.
Credits to owner of photo.

There are other possible concerns that MaxDefense originally wanted to touch but decided not to (for now) until more information becomes available to us. It would be best to let the project take its course trusting the decision making of the Philippine Air Force and the AFP as a whole, considering this project was approved by Senior Leaders of the AFP and DND.

Nonetheless, any acquisition by the PAF of additional assets including medium altitude long endurance UAV platforms like the Hermes 900 is a welcome news, and would provide a leapfrog in capability and experience for the Philippine Air Force.

In the near future, MaxDefense will also be discussing the upcoming Philippine Army Unmanned Aerial Vehicle acquisition project, which is running almost simultaneously with the PAF's project.


  1. We cannot afford this system. Its nice, but unrealistic to go buy top of the line when we have little experience in operating such systems. Also the budget could be used to buy less capable drones but at cheaper prices so as to season our troops in operating a system like this... we'd need years of technology and knowledge transfers to be capable of fielding such systems in an efficient and effective manner. Its not like we're short of bases to launch from, so a 36 hour endurance system makes no sense in the tactical realm and an LRPA outweighs a UAV in the strategic for use in maritime patrol and defense. Better to procure lower grade but established assets for our overall operational concept.

  2. You wrote that the Hermes 900's capabilities is most likely understated by Elbit, then isn't it possible that it could also secretly employ PGMs ?

  3. The helicopter gunship sir!! The helicopter gunship! Hope it's the MI 28

  4. I'm speculating of another JUSMAG involvement with the unidentified chopper model availability in Q1 of 2018 since the only fastest way for PAF to acquire any assets without enganging into any procurement process is thru US assistance. The AH1 Cobra, despite of having an impressive performance, might be written off from the PAF list because of its apparent lack of interest of any single engine rotary aircraft.

  5. There are statement coming from Amb Kim that Unmanned may arrive in September 2017

  6. Going for a 3/5 uav distribution is much better than going on all 4 with H900. As said by Sir Max, H450 has been in service for over a decade with other afs. This feat brings along solved software glitches. I wouldn't really trust inexperienced operators with an new - expensive platform that could still be glitchy. Remember, Sg trained their pilots for 8 years before they could claim H450 under their control fully-operational. This was after they were able to sort-out glitches that they encountered while operating/training H450. If, it took Sg 5 years (Heron 1) and 8 years (H450 ), Phl would have to pour in quite a considerable amount of time and care if it plans on going all-in on H900.

    1. Where did u get any news of the gllitches for the H450?

    2. I read somewhere the problems encountered by Mexico on their Hermes 450 and 900. Its available online.

  7. I think it would be better if we purchase only 2 hermes 900 and 5 hermes 450 then convert these 5 into armed drones then add the remaining funds to acquire LRPA

  8. I still am eager to find out what projects are exactly what the navy and airforce want in their horizon 2 list. There are many versions each different in scope. Will they be changed again?

    1. There are many changes in quantity and timing, as well as additions.

  9. Interesting. Fact: the Republic of Singapore air force took 8 years for the Hermes 450 to achieve Full operational capability.

  10. Before the IAI Heron 1 that Singapore took 5 years to achieve FOC, the hermes 450 of the RSAF took 8 years. From 2007 to 2015.

  11. It's good now that the AFP considers top of the line systems. May this be the start of a new era...letting go of "second-hand" mentality. If our armed forces really want to win a war....choose the high end weapon systems and train with the best. No to red tapes and pessimists.

    1. 2nd hand isnt all bad. Singapore, Indonesia, Turkey, Greece, Poland, and Australia bought 2nd hand main battle tanks. I have discussed before why 2nd hand still has value in it.

  12. IMO, the Philippines should make a Deal with Israel on the Hermes 900. If the Philippines can't get a UAV from America, then they should talk to Israel. If they can get the Hermes 900, maybe they can negotiate with taking the F-16A/B Netz off Israeli Hands as well. Make it a trade deal that the Philippines and Israel can't refuse

    1. There are talks ongoing that MaxDefense isnt inclined to discuss. The absense of news doesnt mean the absense of any talks.

    2. sir Max so which about the deal with Israel, or are u blindly stating that US has something boiling for us that is not yet revealed to public.

  13. It was about time that the AFP pulled out of the Marawi battle operations the FA-50, which sadly killed friendly forces, adding to the gory record of the Air Force in its conduct of close air support. The soldiers must be asking, “air support for whom? For the Maute ISIS or for us?” Despite being vaunted as the Philippines’ most advanced aircraft, the FA-50 was so tainted with corruption that it was acquired by Noynoying Aquino even though it was severely overpriced for a jet trainer with very limited attack and fighter capabilities, and even though it was not really the priority requirement of the AFP which badly needed weapons and equipment in its fight against significant sized rebel groups and terrorists.

    1. We have been asking time and again to people like you, or probably the same group as Anti Trapo Movement and Manny SD Lopez, where is the evidence? Only those who have no idea on defense acquisition can easily drop the bomb of corruption despite lack of evidence. PAF officials already called that discussions be made with these groups but no one's coming forward.

    2. Your description of the FA-50 gives you away as someone who based your opinion from no other than that Manny SD Lopez , who obviously has no idea what he's talking about despite his claims of knowing this and that. I'll bet the next proposal you will say is to buy old Mirage F1 fighters. First thing first, these 2 are different beasts, the FA-50 is a platform that allowed our pilots to transition from the S.211 to a fighter. The Mirage or all those other proposals Manny has brought forward isn't made for that. His so-called evidences are skewed without even knowing differences between different Golden Eagle variants.

    3. Also why biased o FA-50? Investigations already said that it didnt hit friendlies, but it bomb a structure which collapsed while some troops are nearby. Why not call for the pull-out of the SF-260 which DIRECTLY bombed and killed 11 friendlies?

    4. There is no perfection sadly. There will be situations of friendly fire in the battlefield that is the reality.

  14. Poor state of equipment of our foot soldiers and elite units has been so emphasized over the past month and a half of savage fighting in the urban jungle of Marawi. We can just imagine how much shorter and easier the battles and skirmishes would have been for our troops if the Php18.9Billion wasted on very expensive trainer FA-50s had instead gone to purchasing more cutting-edge tanks and armoured vehicles, game-changing thermal scopes and scanners, precision-guided and bunker-busting crew-served weapons, smart ammunition for artillery and high-endurance reconnaissance UAVs that can linger over the battlefield for days instead of just hours.

    1. Php18.9 for the FA-50s are cheap, if you really know acquisition costs of fighter or even trainer aircraft. If you've seen how much Nigeria is paying for 12 propeller driven Super Tucanos, which costs more tha the 12 FA-50s the PAF got. Or if you have any idea how much the PAF is preparing to acquire its MRFs, which is already 3x pricier tha the FA-50.

  15. Those against in procuring Hermes 900 are foreighners as such other countries have difficulties in dealing with this machine and system, AFP is different. They are talented.
    So don't entertain them they ate jealous only.
    Go AFP go hermes 900

    1. There are valid reasons why there are people who are not in favor. As I said in the blog, the worry is in the transition. The PAF has almost zero experience in flying such crafts. If this crashes due to pilot error, thats Php2.1 billion in taxpayers money gone into ashes.

    2. Hi Sir Max, Hao Guan here. The deficiency of the Hermes 450 and 900 before has already been addressed and these units now has the auto-pilot takeoff and landing capability (which is the usual difficulty, particularly in landing, being experienced by its operators).

  16. Aren't we an operator of Boeing's Insitu ScanEagle?

  17. Sir why not the Wing Loong II or I?
    It's like the chinese copy of the American Predator
    Plus it's Reliable and effective in combat


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