Unmanned war: Stung by Pakistan’s Burraq, India eyes Israeli Herons

Deal would open the option of covert cross-border strikes.

Afp September 23, 2015

NEW DELHI: India has accelerated plans to buy drones from Israel that can be armed, defence sources said. This allows the military to carry out strikes overseas with less risk to personnel.

The news comes weeks after India’s long-time rival Pakistan first reported using a home-made drone, Burraq, in combat when it attacked militants on its soil. This raised the prospect of a new front in the nuclear-armed neighbours’ standoff over the Himalayan region of Kashmir that has twice spilled into war.

The plan to acquire Israeli Herons was first conceived three years ago. In January, the military wrote to the government asking for speedy delivery, sources said, as Pakistan and China develop their own drone warfare capabilities. India has already deployed Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) along the rugged mountains of Kashmir for surveillance, as well as on the disputed border with China.

In September, the Indian government approved the air force's request to acquire 10 Heron TP drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). These drones can be fitted with weapons to engage targets on the ground, an air force official said. He added that he expected the agreement to be inked soon. The Indian Defence Ministry declined to comment.

The plan to buy Herons in a deal estimated at $400 million would open the option of covert cross-border strikes. Currently, the two armies exchange fire across the de facto Kashmir border at times of tension. They do not cross the Line of Control (LoC) by land or air.

"It's risky, but armed UAVs can be used for counter insurgency operations internally as well across the borders. It can be used for sneak attacks on terrorist hideouts in mountainous terrain perhaps," said an army officer in the defence planning staff. "

Gurmeet Kanwal, a former head of the government-funded Centre for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, said the armed Herons will give the air force deep-strike capability. They are due to enter Indian service by late 2016. Indian drones face being shot down as soon as they show up on Pakistani radars, the army officer and Kanwal said. Deniability would be essential in any use of armed drones by India and Pakistan across their bitterly contested border, said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a leading weapons proliferation expert.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2015.



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