New Delhi: The Indian Air Force is on the verge of acquiring its first missile-armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) while the Indian Navy will purchase more reconnaissance UAVs for its surface warships.
The government approved a request by the Air Force to acquire 10 Heron TP medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAVs made Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) in September 2015. Heron TP is also known as IAI Eitan.
IAF said these drones, which are normally used for reconnaissance missions, can also be armed with air-to-surface missiles to engage ground targets such as terrorist camps. Heron TP is capable of long endurance missions of up to 52 hours while flying at altitudes as high as 10,500 meters.
The Indian Armed forces currently operates unarmed Israeli Heron and Searcher UAVs used for day and night reconnaissance missions.
For years, the Air Force has said it needs unmanned aerial combat vehicles (UCAVs) to either disrupt terrorist attacks or support Indian Army troops in anti-terrorist operations.
While the Air Force looks forward to operating the Heron TP as an armed aerial drone against the Pakistan Army and Muslim terrorists supported by Pakistan, it remains more eager to acquiring the formidable General Atomics Avenger (Predator C) UCAV.
The Air Force says Hellfire anti-tank missiles fired from the Avenger can strike targets eight kilometers distant. The Avenger also has the ability to detect and track targets across the LoC and attack them while flying well within Indian airspace. It can fly for up to 18 hours to reach targets 2,900 km away.
The United States has cleared the way for India to acquire the Avenger by supporting India’s membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime in Sept. 2015 and declaring India a “major defense partner” of the U.S. India immediately sent a request to buy the drones.
The Avenger will allow the Air Force to reach all of Pakistan, enabling it to retaliate against Pakistan-based terrorists without the risk of losing pilots. It will also be useful as a deterrent in border disputes with China.
The Air Force will discuss the final details of its purchasing up to 100 armed Avengers with U.S. Secretary of State Ash Carter during his visit to India this December. This deal, if approved, will make India the largest operator of this drone in the world.
The Avenger’s design includes stealth features such as internal weapons storage. It will support the same weapons as the MQ-9 Predator, the deadliest drone in the world. India will discuss the purchase of 22 unarmed MQ-9 Predators during Carter’s visit to India.
On the other hand, the Indian Navy (IN) will acquire more UAVs for its surface fleet and is turning to Indian firms and foreign aerospace companies to deliver what it needs.
The Navy operates two squadrons of the IAI Heron and the IAI Searcher Mk-II UAVs and plans to add at least two more squadrons. The drones are operated by Indian Naval Air Squadron 342 (INAS 342) and INAS 343.