New battlelines are being drawn for a spy drone versus spy drone face-off between India and Pakistan. Even as Islamabad continues to badger Washington to give it armed drones like `Predators', New Delhi is quietly working towards bolstering its fleet of reconnaissance and `killer' Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), reports Times of India.
In the latest such contract inked with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) a few days ago, India has ordered a few more `Heron' MALE (medium-altitude, long endurance) drones, ground control systems and data terminals for around Rs 700 crore, defence ministry sources said on Thursday.
While India is currently way ahead of Pakistan in the drone race, armed UAVs in the hands of Pakistan could change the ballgame altogether. As it is, most of the US military goodies like F-16s that Pakistan is getting for the war on terror are meant more for waging conventional warfare rather than counter-terrorism.
While Pakistan has been after US to get `strategic' UAVs like `Predators', the latter has so far only agreed to supply `tactical' unarmed `Shadow' drones for intelligence-gathering missions.
`Predators' and `Reapers', controlled from hundreds of miles away through satellites, can unleash havoc with their `Hellfire' missiles, as is being witnessed in the ongoing American operations against Taliban in the Af-Pak region.
The importance of UAVs in modern-day warfare cannot be overstated, both for their snooping as well as targeting capabilities. Indian armed forces are slowly but surely emerging as big-time drone operators, having inducted well over 100 UAVs since the 1999 Kargil conflict.
These primarily include Israeli ones like Searcher-II and Heron, as also some Harpy `killer' drones designed to detect and destroy enemy radars by functioning like cruise missiles.
Under the latest deal, Navy will now get two more Herons to add to its UAV fleet of eight Searcher-II and four Herons, which are being used for maritime surveillance up to 200 nautical miles.
There is also the ongoing Rs 1,163 crore joint IAI-DRDO project for NRUAVs (naval rotary UAVs) or unmanned helicopters operating from warship decks for advanced ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions.
As reported by TOI earlier, Army is also going in for two more `troops' (8 birds each) of advanced Heron UAVs for Rs 1,118 crore after the Defence Acquisitions Council approved it in February 2009.
Apart from using UAVs for spying and directing precision-guided munitions, IAF is now looking to induct Israeli Harop `killer' UAVs from 2011 onwards. Like the Harpy, Harop drones are capable of loitering over targets before they explode into them. But what makes them more advanced is that they also have electro-optical sensors to make them capable of even hitting important enemy military installations like missile sites.
While Harpy and Harop are kamikaze UAVs which perish with the targets, Predators and Reapers are more like fighters since they return to their bases to get a fresh stock of missiles for new missions.
The next phase will be that of full-fledged UCAVs (combat UAVs) being currently developed to replace manned fighter jets for medium and long-range conventional or nuclear bombing missions.
India, on its part, has also set the indigenous ball rolling. After Nishant and Lakshya drones, DRDO is developing the `Rustom' MALE drones, with the Army keen to induct seven `troops' of them.
Moreover, as reported earlier, Army also wants to induct man-portable `mini' and `micro' UAVs for short-range surveillance and NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) detection in the battlefield. Army, in fact, wants to induct these miniature spy drones right down to the battalion-level by 2017.