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India Stocking up on Drones

June 3, 2010 by  


Siliconeer, News Report, Siddharth Srivastava

Aside from the much spoken about acquisition of big conventional arms by India, a silent accretion has been the fleet of reconnaissance and `killer’ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), specifically aimed at neutralizing threats from Pakistan, and possibly China in future.

Official sources say that if progress is as planned within the next two years India should possess a fleet of at least 25-30 “attack” UAV’s compared to less than 5 now, with such capabilities. India has never admitted to using the destroyer UAVs till now.

Latest reports suggest that some surveillance UAVs may be deployed in Maoist infested areas, following the deadly attack on paramilitary forces in Chhattisgarh this week that killed 75 security personnel.

The sources say that the moves to acquire attack UAV’s gained post the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008, with Indian defense commanders pressing for their procurement as they have been used by the Americans in the Af-Pak region to very good effect, so far.

India has been procuring unmanned drones since the Indo-Pak Kargil conflict in 1999, having inducted over 100 UAVs in the decade that has followed, but mainly for spying, detecting incoming missile attacks and incursions at the border.

The ongoing contracts for the Army, Navy and The Indian Air Force (IAF) comprise mainly Israeli ‘defensive eye in the sky drones’ for spying on the enemy. These have mainly included the unarmed Heron and few Harpy killer drones that function like cruise missiles.

However, this is set to change now.

Sources say that Israeli arms suppliers have been briefed by New Delhi that future UAV fleets to India should comprise a bigger dose of attack UAVs.

And, in keeping with new threat dimensions, the IAF is looking to induct the Israeli Harop killer UAVs from 2011 onwards that approximate the Harpy attack drones. Other wings of the armed forces are likely to follow.

Integration issues are not expected to be severe as the UAV technology is considered relatively simple and does not require complementary hardware installations.

The Indian defense forces already have under their jurisdiction dedicated satellite links and channels that can be used by the attack UAVs.

There is a possibility that India may pitch for American UAV versions given the deepening defense relations between the two countries.

India’s new UAV procurement sets follow considerable talk at the highest political and military levels of targeted assaults and hot pursuit by Indian forces in known terror zones in Pakistan and now possibly Afghanistan.

Military officials have been impressing upon the political leadership in New Delhi about an inadequate and obsolete arsenal at their disposal.

Officials say that over a longer term India will look to procure or develop the next generation UCAVs (combat UAVs) that will substitute missile-fitted fighter jets for conventional attack missions.

‘Harpy’ and ‘Harop’ versions destruct with the target while American ‘Predators’ and ‘Reapers’ drones approximate fighters as they return to base to replenish arms for fresh missions.

Spy drones are among a clutch of ‘intelligent arms’ being procured by India from Israel.

The IAF is inducting three Israeli Phalcon AWACS costing over U.S. $1 billion capable of tracking missiles attacks and can keep an eye on neighboring nations without infringing airspace.

Another system procured from Israel last year for U.S. $600 million are aerostat radars to also spot surreptitious guerilla attacks such as the one in Mumbai wherein the attackers used dingy boats to infiltrate the city.

Pakistan has been pushing for multi utility drones, apart from big armaments such as F-16 fighter jets, from America as part of its military aid package in exchange of taking on the al-Qaeda and now the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Post recent talks between Pakistan and America, the latter is poised to supply state-of-the art arms, including laser guided bomb kits, helicopter gun ships, naval frigate, surveillance drones and latest F-16 fighter jets to the former, its ally in the Af-Pak complex.

However, so far, Washington has apparently limited to Pakistan supply of tactical unarmed ‘Shadow’ UAVs for intelligence-gathering purposes while withholding killer ‘Predator’ drones.

Pakistani officials have been quoted to say that they are hopeful of procuring the destroyer drones as well in the near future. Some reports also suggest the possibility of a Predator equivalent being jointly produced by China and Pakistan.

India has held for long that American big arms largesse to Pakistan to take on terror are such that they can only be used against India and ineffective to take on the guerilla tactics adopted by militants holed in various remote regions.

The conflict situation between neighbors India and Pakistan in South Asia and the push for strategic space between India and China in the Asian region has caused an arms race of big proportions for long.

In the decade that has followed Kargil, India’s total arms purchase deal value (from domestic state-owned armament companies and abroad) has crossed a big U.S. $50 billion, with every sign of such momentum being carried over the next decade and crossing U.S. $100 billion.

Interestingly, India’s arms acquisitions have more than doubled over the last five years from 2004-2009 (U.S. $35 billion) compared to 1999-2004 (U.S. $15.5 billion), as defense plans of the earlier period due to the Kargil conflict have been followed to fruition.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a reputed arms trade monitor, in its report for 2009, has said that India is the world’s second largest arms buyer over the five-year period from 2005-2009, importing 7% of the world’s arms exports.

The top spot went to China. India could well take the number one spot as China is turning self sufficient in arms, while the former’s procurements continue to rise.

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