When Elbit Systems announced a $50 million sale “to supply Hermes 900 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to a governmental office of a country in the Americas” on Jan. 3, speculation was rampant that Colombia was the buyer. The contract called for “systems such as the Universal Ground Control Stations (UGCS), Elbit Systems Electro-Optics Elop's highly advanced DCoMPASS payload systems, as well as satellite communication systems.”
But this week, a friend in Mexico points to this curious entry on the Mexican Treasury Ministry's special projects web page—posted on Dec. 20, 2011—for the “acquisition of unmanned aircraft, ground segment and additional payloads for the Federal Police” for 744 million pesos, which is equivalent to about $50 million U.S. dollars. There is also a Mexican Treasury document passed along to Aviation Week that details the “acquisition of two Unmanned Aerial Vehicles 900, ground command-and-control system and additional payload."
So, did those Hermes 900s really go to Mexico? Elbit representatives declined to comment, but Mexico already has a relationship with the company. In 2009, the Mexican defense ministry bought several Hermes 450 drones for $23.25 million, and the Federal Police also operate a number of the company’s Skylark-I mini-UAVs. The Hermes 450 is the backbone of the Israel Defense Forces' UAV fleet, clocking over 300,000 flight hours, and is capable of staying aloft for 17 hr. while reaching a ceiling of about 18,000 ft.
The Hermes 900 would be a huge upgrade over those capabilities, however. Capable of operating at a maximum 33,000 ft., the UAV's maximum endurance is 40 hr. and maximum takeoff weight is 970 kg.
Of interest to any customer of both the 450 and the 900 is the fact that Elbit Systems has already performed a series of joint flights with the two platforms, using a single universal ground control station to control and operate both the birds at once, while transmitting imagery, electronic and communications intelligence to the ground, and each other.