India will get its first set of drone aircraft designed to take down high-value targets like missile sites, radars and even senior enemy personnel by 2011, adding a new dimension to its combative capabilities.
While India already has a fleet of Searcher and Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), these are not equipped with offensive weapons and are confined to being used in
reconnaissance missions. Now, for the first time India will get the capability to attack enemy positions and even moving targets deep inside enemy territory without having to send across a fighter aircraft.
A top Indian Air Force (IAF) official confirmed that the first batch of Harop killer drones had been ordered from Israel and would be inducted by 2011.
While reports of a $100-million deal between India and Israel's IAI for the Harop have been floating around for several months, this is the first official confirmation from the IAF that the drones have been ordered and would be inducted within three years.
In the past, India had inducted an earlier version called the Harpy but the UAV only had an anti-radiation seeker and was designed to loiter, detect and home in on enemy radar positions.
The Harop, however, will be able not only to take on enemy radars but also has an electro-optical sensor that allows it to target moving vehicles, missile positions and other military installations. It also has a high endurance and can 'loiter' over enemy airspace for over five hours in search of a target.
However, unlike the Predator drones being used by the US against Taliban forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan that fire missiles and can return after the mission, the Harop self-destructs itself onto the target, making it much more expensive.
While efforts are on to develop indigenous Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) like the Predator drone, India is years away from having the capability of taking on targets deep inside enemy territory without committing fighter aircraft.
As per the IAF's procurement plans, a new generation of UCAVs would only be purchased in the next Five Year Plan that starts in 2012.