India set to acquire 97 new drones under ‘Make in India’ programme

Indian Armed Forces Set To Acquire 97 'Make In India' Drones

India’s Defence forces are set to acquire 97 drones manufactured under ‘Make in India’ programme for the purpose of surveillance and patrolling missions along the borders with China and Pakistan. The Indian Air Force will be procuring these drones at a cost exceeding Rs 10,000 crore.

This acquisition will supplement the existing fleet of over 46 Heron UAVs that have been inducted into the respective fleets of the three forces over the past few years. The drones already in service are being upgraded by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in collaboration with original equipment manufacturers as part of the ‘Make-in-India’ initiative.

Government sources have revealed that a scientific study was conducted jointly by the defence forces. And according to this study, 97 such drones will be required to meet the Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) requirements. This would enable comprehensive surveillance of both land and sea regions.

This decision is aligned with India’s recent acquisition of 31 MQ-9B Reaper drones from the United States. These drones fall under the High Altitude Long Endurance category & will be used to monitor vast areas of Indian interest.

These drones will play a crucial role in meeting India’s medium & long-range monitoring needs along the Pakistan and China borders. They will be helpful in covering both land and sea regions. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are designed to fly for nearly 30 continuous hours & are highly efficient for surveillance operations.

Why are these drones necessary for India’s Defense forces?

Representational image of a US drone

The acquisition and deployment of drones along India’s borders hold significant importance for the country’s defense and surveillance capabilities. 

Firstly, they offer enhanced surveillance capabilities, allowing for real-time monitoring of sensitive border regions. With their long endurance & advanced sensor technology, the drones can effectively detect & track any suspicious activities. Hence, providing valuable intelligence to the Indian Defense forces.

Secondly, drones contribute to India’s deterrence strategy. By maintaining a constant vigilance & proactive presence along the borders, they can ensure the safety and sovereignty of the nation.

Also, these drones have the ability to cover vast areas that are otherwise challenging to monitor. With their extended flight duration, they can conduct extensive reconnaissance and surveillance missions. Also they can be helpful in gathering crucial information on any hostile movements or infiltrations.

Moreover, the indigenously manufactured drones reflect India’s growing capabilities in the field of defense technology. The ‘Make-in-India’ initiative, coupled with collaborations with international partners, has contributed to the development of advanced UAVs that meet the country’s specific requirements.

Historical Background of Drones in India:

The usage of military drones in India dates back to the late 1990s when the Indian Army acquired unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel. Subsequently, the Indian Air Force and Navy also began procuring these drones.

During the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan, India deployed military drones for the first time. Initially, manned English Canberra PR57 aircraft were used by the Indian Air Force for photo reconnaissance along the Line of Control. However, this approach proved to be inefficient and strategically weak in the challenging terrain of Kargil.

Following the loss of a Canberra PR57, Israel quietly supplied the Indian Air Force with IAI Heron and Searcher drones. This deal later proved to be more valuable in acquiring target information along the Line of Control.

Since the Kargil conflict, India has procured numerous Israeli military unmanned aircraft. In 2009, the Indian Air Force signed a $100 million contract with Israel Aerospace Industries to purchase 10 Harop drones.

But in 2013, the Indian Air Force expanded its collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries. This collaboration was entering into a $280 million deal to acquire a new series of Heron medium-altitude, long-endurance drones. In June 2013, India initiated the deployment of Heron surveillance drones. This was done to monitor Maoist rebel strongholds in the eastern states of Andhra Pradesh-Odisha and Andhra Pradesh-Chhattisgarh. However, due to the dense forested areas in these regions, the UAVs have had limited utility in these operations.

In addition to this, in 2019, India procured 54 Harop attack drones from Israel.

Besides these acquisitions, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), along with several private Indian companies, is actively engaged in the production and development of drones and UAV technologies. DRDO has its own domestic UAV/UAS program aimed at replacing and augmenting the existing fleet of unmanned vehicles. 

Some examples of India’s DRDO-owned drones include:

Image of DRDO Auro Drone

DRDO Lakshya: This target drone is used for discreet aerial reconnaissance and target acquisition. It is launched by a solid propellant rocket motor and sustained by a turbojet engine during flight.

DRDO Nishant: Primarily designed for intelligence gathering in enemy territory. This drone is also used for reconnaissance, training, surveillance, target designation, artillery fire correction, and damage assessment.

DRDO Aura: Similar to the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel, this stealth drone has the capability to release missiles, bombs, and precision-guided munitions.

DRDO Rustom: Modeled after the American Predator UAV, the Rustom is a Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) system. Like the Predator, it is designed for both reconnaissance and combat missions. The Rustom is expected to replace and supplement the Israeli Heron model UAVs in the Indian Air Force.

These drones can travel at speeds of 200 kilometers per hour (km/hr) and operate at altitudes ranging from 6,000 to 10,000 feet. There are also higher versions of MALE drones that can fly up to an altitude of 30,000 feet and beyond.

In India, the usage of all aerial vehicles, whether manned or unmanned, is governed by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). Currently, flying drones in India is restricted to Indian citizens, and foreign individuals are not permitted to operate drones in the country.

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