By Abraham Rabinovich
A long-range Israeli drone capable of surveillance and bombing missions over Iran crashed Sunday near an Israeli air base during a test flight.
A preliminary investigation indicated that human error and a technical malfunction contributed to the accident, the air force said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.
According to military sources, a wing that fell off the drone had been fitted with a highly advanced navigational device that might have interfered with the aircraft’s other flight systems.
The Israeli military’s most advanced drone, the Heron TP has a wingspan of 85 feet, nearly that of a Boeing 737, and a payload capacity of 2,200 pounds.
The drone has platforms for surveillance equipment and for firing rockets, and can be used in a variety of mission such as aerial refueling, jamming communications and relaying ground control in Israel to manned aircraft over a distant target.
Israeli officials reportedly have been considering a military strike on Iranto prevent the Islamic republic from making an atomic weapon, and the Heron TP, which soars as high as 40,000 feet, would likely play a key role in an attack.
According to press accounts, the drone was used in a 2009 airstrike in Sudan against a Gaza-bound convoy carrying Iranian arms destined for the Hamas militant group.