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The Indian Navy has taken a cautious approach to unmanned aerial systems (UAS) acquisition, recently inducting two Elbit Systems Hermes 900 StarLiner units for extensive evaluation before committing to further purchases. These drones, assembled locally in Hyderabad, represent a significant milestone in India’s quest for indigenous drone technology.

The two Hermes 900 units were assembled in Hyderabad by Adani Defence and Aerospace, marking a significant step towards India’s “Make in India” initiative. However, the Navy is not rushing into further purchases based solely on this fact.

The procured units are equipped with a range of advanced sensors, including SPECTRO XR multispectral EO payloads, L3Harris Wescam MX-15/-20 EO imagers, Rafael VisionMap’s MIST G dual-spectral airborne mapping systems, Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) radars, and electronic warfare (EW) systems. This comprehensive payload suite will be rigorously evaluated for its performance in various operational scenarios.

The Navy’s approach to the Hermes 900 procurement echoes its experience with the MQ-9 Predator B UAS, which was initially leased from General Atomics for two years. After a successful evaluation period, the lease was extended. However, ultimately, the Navy opted for a direct purchase of the Hermes 900, considering it a more cost-effective option in the long run.

The two-year evaluation period for the Hermes 900 is significant. It allows the Navy to thoroughly assess the UAS’s capabilities in real-world conditions, including its endurance, payload effectiveness, and integration with existing infrastructure. This data will be crucial in determining whether the Hermes 900 meets the Navy’s specific needs and justifies further procurement.

The Indian Navy’s cautious approach to the Hermes 900 UAS will also allow local alternatives time to mature so that the Navy receives the most effective and cost-efficient solution for its unmanned aerial needs.

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