New Delhi: The Indian Army will soon get four Heron TP drones on lease from Israel, which will be deployed along the Line of Actual Control with China for long surveillance missions, ThePrint has learnt.
The Heron TP, which is as long as a Rafale (14 metres) and has double the wingspan of the French fighter, has been developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). It is a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) for all weather strategic missions. While the Heron TP drones are capable of being armed if needed, sources said the ones being leased by India are non-weaponised versions.
“The first two drones will be delivered soon. The other two will be delivered after a gap of three months,” a source told ThePrint, adding that the contract for the lease was signed earlier this year. The lease is for a period of three years with an option of another two years, but costs are not being divulged.
Army’s first lease of equipment
This is the Indian Army’s first time leasing military equipment, after a clause was introduced in the latest version of the Defence Acquisition Procedure. The Navy has already leased two non-weaponised General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9B Sea Guardian MALE UAVs from the US under this policy, but sources in the defence establishment said that the Israeli Heron TP performs better and is cheaper.
The Army and the Indian Air Force use a mix of previous generation Heron and Searcher 2 drones. Sources said that the Heron TP is much more capable than its predecessor.
“The Heron TP is huge. It looks like an AN-32 aircraft in size because of its large wingspan. It has a maximum take-off weight of 5,670 kg, with a maximum payload weight of 2,700 kg. The earlier generation has less than half this capacity,” a source said, adding that with an endurance of 30 hours, the drone has a range of over 1,000 kilometres.
It is equipped with automatic taxi-takeoff and landing (ATOL), satellite communication for extended range, and fully redundant avionics, among other highlights.
Meanwhile, the armed forces are in talks with Israel to upgrade the 90 previous generation Herons in service, and also to weaponise them. Of the 90, about 75 are operated by the IAF.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)