The purchase of 10 armed drones from Israel has been okayed by the Union government last week. The $400-million proposal for buying armed Heron TP drones from Israel will increase the country’s cross-border military strike capability.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) will operate the drones. IAF also has a fleet of Harpy UAVs from Israel; they are primarily tasked with taking out enemy radar positions.
The armed drones are equipped with air-to-ground missiles that can carry a payload of 1,000 kg. The project has been given pace and the said drones may be put into service within a year. The armed forces had proposed buying the same armed drones in 2012. But the proposal didn’t get the support of UPA-2. The project was revived by the Modi government this year.
The armed drones are similar to the Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of reconnaissance, combat and support roles. India operates unarmed Heron and Searcher UAVs for surveillance and intelligence purposes.
The addition of armed UAVs will enhance India’s capability of taking out large terrorist camps or individual targets in hostile territory with minimal risk. The lack of firepower to target terror camps across the border was felt after the Manipur attack in June, in which 18 soldiers had died. While a cross-border raid was carried out, the lack of a low-risk capability to take out cross-border targets was felt.
Meanwhile, Defence Research and Development Organisation is developing an indigenous drone programme – Rustom 2. Armed flight trials are yet to be carried out.
At present, a senior team from Israel Aerospace Industries is in New Delhi to explore joint production of drones with India.