In a bid to boost India’s cross-border military strike capability, the Indian government, silently, gave approval for purchase of 10 Israeli missile-armed drones, a deal worth $400 million.
The armed Heron TP drones will be handed over to the Indian Air Force, which has a fleet of reconnaissance drones. The IAF also has a fleet of Harpy UAVs from Israel, which are self-destructing systems, primarily tasked with mapping enemy radar positions.
A senior official in the defence ministry informed the project has been accelerated under directions from the highest levels of the government and that armed drones may join service within a year.
The armed forces had proposed buying the same armed drones in 2012 but didn’t get political backing by the then Congress-led government. However, the Narendra Modi-led Indian government reviewed and fast-tracked it earlier this year.
Heron drones can carry a payload of over 1,000 kg and will be equipped with air-to-ground missiles that detect, track and take down targets deep in enemy territory. These drones are also similar to the Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are capable of reconnaissance, combat and support roles.
The purchase will now enable the country to zero on terrorist camps or individual targets in hostile territory with minimal risk.
Former Air Chief PV Naik said the acquisition of armed drones would be a significant addition to India’s air power. “It is very good if something like this is happening. Instead of sending a pilot in a high-risk area, it is best to use an armed drone. The system can also be used for a surprise, sneak attack,” he said.
Another official said the lack of capability to target terror camps across the border was also felt after the Manipur attack in June, in which 18 soldiers died. While a covert cross-border raid was carried out in retaliation, the lack of a low-risk, quick reaction platform to take out cross-border targets was severely felt.
While an indigenous drone programme – Rustom 2 – is being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, the project is several years away from the weaponised induction. Armed flight trials are yet to be carried out.
A team of senior officials from Israel Aerospace Industries is in New Delhi currently and Israelis are also looking forward to start a joint production of drones with India.