The Indian Army has acquired four Heron TP drones on lease for $200 million from Israel. The UAVs are likely to be used for surveillance along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh from where India and China are currently withdrawing their troops after a protracted military standoff.
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While both the Army and the Defense Ministry declined to comment on the deal for security reasons, Security Risks Asia, a Delhi-based consultancy, claims the contract is worth $200 million, Janes reported.
It also added that the lease period is of three years, with an option for a two-year extension.
The lease of the four Heron TP drones was signed in mid-January by the Army under the new ‘emergency powers’ granted by the Indian government in the wake of the June 2020 Galwan Valley clash, in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives.
Under these ‘emergency powers’, the Indian armed forces can buy any weapon system under Rs 500 crore for ‘urgent’ requirements.
Lt. Gen. Y K Joshi (GoC-in-C Northern Command), in an interview with News18, said that the Indian Army had been given a ‘free hand’ by the government in operational preparedness against China during the standoff. The success in the disengagement was the result of joint efforts at the military and diplomatic levels, and the process is being constantly monitored using UAVs and men on the ground, he added.
According to experts, the standoff was an ‘eye-opener’ for both sides to ramp up deployments and surveillance equipment to solve issues at this ‘long-neglected border, including ‘strategic area denial’ and ‘border clarification’.
The Heron-TP Drone
The Indian armed forces have long been using Israeli UAVs for surveillance duties. As many as 10 Heron-TP (also called Eitan) drones have been in service with the Indian Air Force, and the latest one could be the first acquisition of these drones with the Army. Currently, the service has been using Israeli Searcher UAVs.
In August 2020, there were reports that India was planning to arm about 100 Heron drones with missiles under ‘Project Cheetah’. Recently, the Indian Navy also acquired Predator-B drones on lease from the United States.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) does not comment on the arming of drones, but reports suggest the Eitan (Heron-TP) has performed “armed roles” with missiles “attached to wing hardpoints”.