NATIONAL

More UAVs to step up border reconnaissance

NEW DELHI MAY 22. India is seeking to beef up vigilance of its borders and coastlines through the acquisition of more drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as they are known in technical parlance. Although two contracts for high altitude UAVs were signed recently with its long-time supplier Israel, the Defence Ministry feels that more UAVs are required, especially for the plains and the coast.

Interestingly, the types of UAVs proposed to be purchased perform much the same functions as the `Nishant' developed indigenously by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). In that sense, the move to buy more UAVs would be tacit acknowledgement of the defence industry's inability to meet the requirement of the armed forces in this respect. The low endurance Nishant UAV is claimed by the DRDO as one of its three milestones in the field of aeronautics. The other two are light combat aircraft `Tejas', at present being tested for several features, and `Lakshya', an aerial target system for training gun and missile crew and pilots in weapon engagement.Since 1997, India has relied on Israeli UAVs for meeting its requirement of aerial surveillance and reconnaissance of the enemy's battlefield. However, these have been expensive propositions because of the single tender system. In order to bring the price down, India for the first time has asked other international manufacturers to participate in the purchase negotiations.The requirement is for low endurance and relatively low launch altitude UAVs. Apart from several Israeli firms, Russian, German, Austrian, American and South African companies have shown interest in meeting the needs of the armed forces.

The low launch altitude capability precludes their deployment in most part of Jammu and Kashmir where drones supplied by the IAI (Israeli Aircraft Industries) hold sway.

The company, a world leader in several aeronautic segments, is understood to be further consolidating its advantage of being a long-term supplier by offering to set up a UAV maintenance hub in joint venture with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). This offer could put the defence planners in a dilemma. On the one hand, they would like to disengage themselves from relying on a single company to get the cheapest possible price for the drones and their associated equipment. On the other, the large number of aspirants could give rise to corporate warfare and delay a decision, as has been the case with several defence equipment, notably the advanced jet trainer.

Besides, the offer of a maintenance centre is too tempting to be overlooked.

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