Study estimates count of UAVs required for the three Services

The study has recommended procurement of 31 MQ-9B high-altitude UAVs and 155 medium-altitude UAVs; Chief of Defence Staff General Anil Chauhan has ordered another study on the use of armoured helicopters by the armed forces

October 16, 2023 02:21 am | Updated 02:21 am IST - NEW DELHI

The study on UAVs has since been completed with a recommendation to acquire 31 MQ-9B HALE UAVs and 155 MALE UAVs. File

The study on UAVs has since been completed with a recommendation to acquire 31 MQ-9B HALE UAVs and 155 MALE UAVs. File

The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Anil Chauhan recently ordered two studies to be conducted on major military platforms used by all three services. According to defence sources these platforms are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and armoured helicopters. The study on UAVs has since been completed with a recommendation to acquire 31 MQ-9B High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs and 155 Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAVs.

“The studies, undertaken by triservice teams, are meant to optimise the number of platforms required as well as the resources and avoid duplication,” a defence source with knowledge of the matter explained. “The first study was conducted in August-September and the report has been finalised. For the second study, the Terms of Reference are currently being finalised and the study is expected to begin in a month of two,” two sources independently confirmed.

“The broad outcome of the study on UAVs was a requirement for 31 MQ-9B HALE UAVs and 155 MALE UAVs. While the deal for MQ-9Bs is in progress, the division of the 155 MALE UAVs between the three services is yet to be decided,” the second source stated.

Upgrade of Heron UAVs

The three services operate a large number of Israeli Heron MALE UAVs. A major upgrade to weaponise and incorporate satellite communication on these UAVs, estimated to cost ₹21000 crore, has been pending for several years. Following the study, officials have expressed confidence that this will now get cleared.

In June, the Defence Ministry cleared the procurement of 31 MQ-9B UAVs from General Atomics, 15 Sea Guardians for the Indian Navy and 16 Sky Guardians – eight each for the Indian Army and Air Force, at an estimated cost of $3,072 million though the US Foreign Military Sales route.

Last month, just ahead of talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit, the Defence Ministry issued the Letter of Request (LoR) to the US Government. Based on LOR, the US Government and MoD will finalise the Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) where details of equipment and terms of the procurement would be negotiated and finalised.

Army to get Apaches

The Indian Air Force has traditionally been responsible for operating attack helicopters. Over the last decade, the Army has sought to operate attack helicopters on its own in support of its strike formations. Army Aviation recently inducted the first batch of Light Combat Helicopter (LCH).

Both Army and IAF are inducting the initial batch of 15 LCH. A bigger deal for 156 LCH, 90 for the Army and 66 for the IAF, estimated to cost ₹45,000 crore is awaiting Government approval.

The Cabinet Committee on Security has already given in-principle sanction for procurement of 39 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the US. The IAF has since inducted 22 AH-64E Apaches under a deal signed in September 2015. At this point the Government decided that any further Apache procurements would go to the Army. India signed a deal for six more Apaches, for the Army, at a cost of around $800mn in February 2020 and the Army will also start receiving them from February 2024.

The Army has been pushing a pushing a case for 11 more Apaches and preliminary discussions are on with Boeing. With the study on armoured helicopters due, sources said progress on additional Apaches would be based on the outcome.

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