India to modify UAV’s to carry weapons

No impact on deal with US for armed drones

IDD Bureau

Making a definite shift towards having combat unnamed aerial systems (UAS), India has okayed a project to upgrade a part of its fleet of the Israeli ‘Heron’ surveillance drones, acquired in multiple tranches since 2001.

A part of the 90 -strong fleet of ‘Herons’ will be modified to carry laser bombs and air-to-ground missiles, in what will be first armed drones for India.

The project was okayed on Tuesday by Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the apex decision making body of  Indian Ministry of Defence headed by Rajnath Singh. (read it here)

The ‘Heron’ drones with the Indian Air Force and Army have high-resolution surveillance cameras, electronic signal tracking  systems. The Arming will require some changes, addition of hard points. The operating system which allows hitting targets, will have to be altered. The increased payload of weapons will have to be compensated by reducing fuel, which in turn can bring down endurance.

So far, the only combat element in the Indian UAS fleet are the Harop or Harpy– which can loiter over a target for hours and in a ‘kamikaze-manner’ implode on the target . These are  ‘loitering drones. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)  has supplied these and carry variation of warheads .

A model of the Harpy at display in India. File pic

India Israel link

Almost 20 years ago, in 2001, IAI supplied to India Searcher UAV’s used in tactical situations. The deal was for 100–odd ‘Searcher’. In 2003, India signed another contract with IAI for 18 Heron-1 UAVs and ordered additional ones over the years. In the past few years India has joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and can have missiles with more than 500 kms range.

In February this year, the Israeli manufacturer of drones, the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) had announced a strategic partnership  with MoD owned public sector undertaking, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Dynamatic Technologies Limited (DTL) to jointly manufacture the Heron mark II, drones. These are the armed variety. The ones India is looking to upgrade could possibly be done through the same partnership.

No impact on US deal

The Heron upgrade will have no impact on the larger deal New Delhi is looking to source two variations of an UAS  or Drones from the US. One for a sea-going role and another one, a  weaponised  version for use over-land. Read it here

On the list are three products of the Predator-family of UAS made by US giant General Atomics (GA). Talks  are on for the past few months. Off these three, two could be chosen.

The military stand-off  between India and China since early May this year has led to a serious situation and New Delhi has conveyed to the US its fresh interest in armed drones from General Atomics .

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