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India’s quest for Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) has taken a temporary detour with the emergency procurement of Israeli Hermes 900 and IAI Heron Mk II drones. This decision, as sources tell, stems from delays in the indigenous Tapas program and its possible superseding by the next-generation Archer NG program.

With a pressing need for MALE UAVs, the Indian Army, Air Force, and Navy opted for Israeli drones through the emergency procurement scheme. This quick solution allowed them to address immediate operational gaps while the indigenous programs continued development.

However, the long-term focus remains firmly on building indigenous capabilities. The Archer NG program holds immense promise, with estimates suggesting a 70% reduction in unit cost compared to the imported drones. While a Hermes 900 or Heron Mk II costs around Rs 110-125 crore, the Archer NG, equipped with mission sensors, is targeted at Rs 55-60 crore, with further price reduction expected for larger orders.

The significant cost difference is a key factor motivating the Indian armed forces to back the indigenous program. They envision acquiring a larger fleet of MALE UAVs, with Archer NG forming the backbone, allowing for wider deployment and enhanced operational flexibility.

The small numbers of Hermes 900 and Heron Mk II drones acquired through emergency procurement reflect the temporary nature of this solution. They serve as stop-gap measures while the Archer NG program matures and enters production.

This situation highlights the challenges faced by India in balancing immediate operational requirements with its aspirations for self-reliance in critical defence technologies. While the emergency procurement ensures the timely availability of crucial equipment, the true success lies in achieving cost-effective indigenous production of advanced MALE UAVs.

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