A new battle-line is being drawn between India and Pakistan in the arena of armed drones. Even as India is engaged in advanced talks with the US to acquire armed Predator-B or weaponised Sea Guardian drones, China is going to sell 48 of its latest Wing Loong-II strike drones to Pakistan as well as jointly manufacture them with its “all-weather ally” at a later stage.
Indian military experts, however, were quite unperturbed about the development. “They will be good targets for our air defence missile systems. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like Wing Loong-IIs may be good over Chhattisgarh but will be dead meat in defended or hostile airspace along the Line of Control or for that matter, Doklam,” said a senior officer.
The news about the Wing Loong-II deal emanating from Beijing and Islamabad, incidentally, comes soon after India inked the $5.43 billion (Rs 40,000 crore) deal with Russia for advanced S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems, which can track and destroy hostile strategic bombers, stealth fighters, spy planes, missiles and drones from 380-km away.
The reports did not mention the cost or delivery schedule of the deal for the Wing Loong-IIs, which are manufactured by the Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group, but they are billed as China’s latest strike-capable, medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) reconnaissance drones. With a payload capacity of over 400-kg, Wing Loong-II can carry armaments like the Lan Jian-7 (Blue Arrow-7) air-to-surface missiles and TG-100 laser-guided bombs.
India, of course, already has some weaponised drones in its UAV fleet. It has upgraded its Israeli-origin Heron and Searcher-II drones with “add-ons” to ensure they can undertake combat missions over and above their surveillance and precision-targeting roles.
India also inked the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement with the US, which will allow it greater access to military platforms with encrypted and secure communications and data links like the Predator-B or weaponised Sea Guardian drones. Indian officers contend their “armed Herons”, which are also MALE drones capable of flying for 24 hours at heights over 32,000 feet, are “somewhat better” than Wing Loong-IIs. The Chinese drones, however, are cheaper than the American ones.