India has used the Israeli Heron drones since 2005. The earlier versions of the Heron drones were mainly used for surveillance or search and rescue. However, in 2018 India bought 10 Heron TP drones that were the armed versions of the earlier models. But amid the rising border tensions with China, the Indian Armed Forces are pushing to arm India’s 90 Heron drones with laser-guided bombs (LGB), precision munitions, and anti-tank missiles.
Armed Heron Drones Amid India-China Tussle
The proposal to arm the 90 Heron drones is part of a decade long project called ‘Project Cheetah’. The Indian government has cleared fast-tracking for the approval of the project. The cost of arming the Heron drones with LGBs, precision munitions, anti-tank missiles as well as advanced reconnaissance capabilities is estimated to be over Rs 3,500 crore.
The IAI Heron Drone
- Capacity: 250 kg (551 lb)
- Length: 8.5 m (27 ft 11 in)
- Wingspan: 16.6 m (54 ft 6 in)
- Max takeoff weight: 1,150 kg (2,535 lb)
- Engine: Rotax 914 4-cylinder air and water-cooled engine,115 hp
- Propellers: 3-bladed pusher propeller.
The Heron can carry out a flight operation for 52 hours continuously at a maximum altitude of 35,000 ft. They have an approximate maximum speed of 207-280 km/h depending upon the drone variant. Considering the rugged terrain and valleys alongside the India-China border, an armed version of the Heron drone can significantly add on to the surveillance and defensive capabilities of the army. The move to arm the drones comes after the Galwan Valley clash, wherein 20 Indian soldiers were martyred in a violent clash with the Chinese forces.
Presently, China uses the Wing Loon II drone for surveillance and reconnaissance. They also use the CH-4 and BZK-005C drones with a 331 lb payload and 40 hours of flight time. To increase its UAV capabilities, India has recently purchased the Predator-B drone from the US. The Predator drone is regarded as one of the most powerful drones in the world (Read more about it here).