New Delhi: India is currently pursuing multiple Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones programme in an attempt to arm its three services — Army, Navy and the Air Force — with weapons that would play a critical role in future wars.
These UAVs are not just meant for long range surveillance but also for carrying out precision strikes from standoff distances and for Kamikaze operations.
Among the several drone programmes that the Indian military is pursuing, one of them is Project Cheetah.
Project Cheetah, which is divided into two separate programmes, aims to upgrade and arm India’s Heron drones, with the assistance of Israel, the manufacturer.
As reported by ThePrint earlier this week, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has “completed cost negotiations” and the project has “entered final stages of decision making”.
Another programme that India is pursuing is the procurement of 30 MQ-9 Reaper or Predator B drones, which will be a tri-service initiative.
ThePrint takes a look at the various UAVs that are part of India’s unmanned aerial squadrons and possible future acquisitions.
Developed by the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the Heron, also known as Machatz-1, is a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV.
In November 2005, India had reportedly signed a $220 million (approximately Rs 1,630 crore) deal with IAI to procure 50 Herons. According to Defense Industry Daily, the deal was said to have been near completion in 2004, but was postponed due to Lok Sabha elections that year.
The Daily also said that India had previously used 12 Heron-1 UAVs in its search and rescue operations following the December 2004 tsunami, and their performance in those operations played a part in sealing the deal for India and IAI.
In all, there are about 90 Herons in service with the country.
One big lacuna in the Herons in use with India is that they are not equipped for satellite navigation, which helps in better range and wider coverage.
Following tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China since May last year, the Army ordered on lease four latest generation of Herons, known as the Heron II.
While initially it was believed that the Army was leasing Heron TP, a variant of the Heron, sources in the defence and security establishment confirmed it was actually Heron II.
The Heron TP is 14-metre long with a wingspan of 26 metres and endurance of up to 30 hours, while its beyond line-of-sight range and altitude capabilities are the same as the Heron.
The Israelis also offered Heron TP to India for possible procurement.
Also developed by IAI, the Searcher was first deployed in 1992, but it was the Searcher Mk II, introduced in 1998, that India procured after 2000.
Described by Israeli Weapons, an online database on the history, development and usage of arms by the Israeli Defence Forces and companies, as a “multi mission tactical UAV system”, the Searcher Mk II is 5.85-metre long with a wingspan of 8.55 metres, and endurance of up to 18 hours. Its range is listed as 300 km while altitude capabilities are at 20,000 feet.
Alongside the Heron UAVs, the Indian Navy also uses Searcher Mk II. However, currently, the biggest user of the Searcher is the Army.
Developed by the American firm General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), the MQ-9B Sea Guardian is a variant of the MQ-9 Predator B, which is described by the United States Air Force as a “remotely piloted aircraft” instead of the widely-used UAV.
Unlike the Heron, the Sea Guardian comes under the High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs. It is 11.7-metre long with a wingspan of 24 metres and a maximum endurance of 40 hours. Its range is listed as over 5,500 nautical miles, or over 10,000 km, while altitude capabilities are at 40,000 feet.
Developed by Navi Mumbai-based firm ideaForge Technology, the SWITCH UAV is termed as a “first of its kind” Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft and fixed wing hybrid UAV.
In January this year, the Army awarded a $20 million deal (approximately Rs 148 crore) to ideaForge, for an undisclosed number of the advanced version of SWITCH tactical drones.
These specialised systems are made to operate in high altitude areas like Ladakh, for use by infantry soldiers and special forces.
While the Army ordered an upgraded version, the standard man portable SWITCH weighs 6.5 kg and is capable of vertical take-off, conventional flight with an endurance of two hours.
It can carry out surveillance up to 15 km from altitudes of 4,000 metres. It has a maximum operating altitude of 1,000 metres and has a wind resistance up to 10.8 knots or 20 km per hour.
The infantry battalions of the Army use multiple varieties of quadcopters.
These drones are manufactured by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and also by private firms.
These drones are used for tactical surveillance by soldiers during anti-terrorism operations and patrolling for a much deeper situation awareness.
Costing no more than a few thousand rupees, these kind of drones are extensively used by the forces along the LoC and in Jammu and Kashmir.
Harpy and Harop
The IAF uses two kind of kamikaze drones — Harpy and the upgraded Harops — both procured from Israel.
The Harpy is an all-weather day/night ‘Fire and Forget’ autonomous weapon system that is used to take out enemy radars and, hence, disables their air defence systems. It can also be used to take out other targets as well.
This is launched from a ground vehicle behind the battle zone.
It has a communication range of 200 km and an endurance of nine hours precision of less than 1 metre with a 16kg warhead.
The Harop is a loitering missile (LM) which serves as an Electro-Optically guided attack weapon.
The Harop can be used for taking out a number of targets, including moving vehicles.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)
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