The Indian Army, which is locked in a standoff with China’s People’s Liberation Army in eastern Ladakh, could soon get six Heron Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) on lease from Israel. The multi-role drones, which has a mission endurance of around 30 hours and a range of over 1,000 kilometer, will be deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to monitor Chinese activities in areas along the frontier.
The platform can perform various strategic missions, including intelligence gathering, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance. It is equipped with Satellite Communications for Beyond Line of Sight ranges.
Indian Army and the Indian Air Force already operate a large fleet of Heron drones, which are currently being upgraded with the latest systems, including new communication links. As the existing fleet of Heron drones lacks satellite communication links, two of these drones are launched with a time gap to ensure that surveillance data collected by the first one is relayed back to base through the second drone in case of long-range missions, a report says.
This is the first time the Indian Army will be leasing a platform. The development comes just months after the new Defence Acquisition Procedure was unveiled by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in September 2020.
The Indian Navy has already leased two non-weaponised General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from the US. The drones, which landed in India at the peak of the standoff in Ladakh last year, are being operated by the Navy from the Arakkonam naval air station in Tamil Nadu for surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering in the Indian Ocean.
India may also acquire 30 Predator armed drones from the US through the US Foreign Military Sales route. Reports say the Indian Navy, which is the lead agency for this procurement, is likely to approach the Defence Ministry to get in-principle approval. The Indian Army, Navy and Air Force will get ten drones each.