Advance surveillance drones capabilities:-
India will soon get four advanced Israeli Heron Mark-II drones, which can stay airborne for 45 hours at a stretch, in a major boost to its strategic surveillance capabilities along the Line of Actual Control with China.
The first two Heron-II unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be delivered to the Army in the next two to three months, with the other two coming in before the year ends, under the lease agreement inked with Israel.
TOI was the first to report in February that the lease of the four satellite communication-enabled Heron Mark-II drones was part of the major plan underway to ensure gap-free and real-time surveillance through a wide array of drones, sensors, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare equipment along the entire 3,488-km LAC with China.
The three-year lease of the four Heron Mark-II drones is the second such case of the Rs 500 crore emergency financial powers being used by the armed forces to bolster their long-range surveillance capabilities amidst the ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh since early May last year.
The Navy is already extensively using two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones, variants of the iconic armed Predator drones, for surveillance missions over the Indian Ocean after leasing them from US firm General Atomics last November.
Manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries, the medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) Heron Mark-II drones are an upgraded version of the original Heron UAVs inducted by the Indian armed forces over the years.
“With their long-range radars and sensors, anti-jamming capability, and the ability to reach an altitude of 35,000-feet, the Heron Mark-II drones will be able to gather all kinds of intelligence across the LAC without even flying close to it,” media reports.
The induction plans of the armed forces range from mini-drones for high-altitude areas and ultra-long-range surveillance cameras to MALE and HALE (high-altitude, long-endurance) remotely-piloted aircraft systems.
The Army, for instance, had inked a Rs 140 crore deal with an Indian firm in January for “Switch” tactical drones, which are small enough to be used by infantry soldiers deployed in high-altitude areas like Ladakh. The (IAF) is also on course to induct additional Harop kamikaze attack drones from Israel.
Concurrently, there is also the ₹3,500 crore `Project Cheetah’ to upgrade the around 80-90 Heron UAVs in the Army, Navy, and (IAF) with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground anti-tank missiles as well as advanced reconnaissance and satellite communication capabilities.
There is, however, some delay in the proposed $3 billion acquisition of 30 ‘hunter-killer weaponized Sea Guardian or MQ-9 Reaper drones due to the high costs involved. The case is yet to come before the Defence Acquisitions Council for grant of the initial “acceptance of necessity” as of now.