The Indian Air Force (IAF) has reportedly deployed the Israeli-made Heron drones (UAV) to keep a watch on the China border amid the ongoing standoff between the two militaries in the Ladakh area.
The UAV was spotted at the Indian Air Forces’ Trishul airbase in Bareilly in the latest satellite imagery shared by an open-source intelligence Twitter handle. The development indicates that India has beefed up vigil along the LAC after it rejected the Chinese military’s proposal to disengage from eight critical border points in Eastern Ladakh.
The UAV is “possibly part of ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) missions” along India’s borders with China and Nepal, the open-source intelligence Twitter handle d-atis @detresfa_ said.
Recent images from the #IndianAirForce Trishul Air Base, in Bareilly #India spot an IAI heron drone on the runway possibly part of ongoing ISR missions near the border areas with #China & #Nepal pic.twitter.com/NOjN9BxJWT
— d-atis☠️ (@detresfa_) December 28, 2020
The Indian Army, the Air Force, and the Navy use the medium-altitude, long-endurance Heron UAVs for surveillance and target acquisition purposes.
The drones have been in service with the Indian armed forces for several years. In order to strengthen border-monitoring capabilities and firepower, India is likely to order an armed version of the UAV and upgrade the existing fleet of unarmed UAVs under the Indian Air Force’s ‘Project Cheetah’ for Rs 3,500 crore.
The Project Cheetah aims to upgrade the 90 Heron drones with laser-guided bombs, air-to-ground, and air-launched anti-tank guided missiles. It will enable the forces to carry out offensive operations against the enemy.
The fully-automated versions are capable of flying up to 45 hours and at an altitude of up to 35,000 feet. It can establish satellite communication (SATCOM) connectivity during Beyond Line-Of-Sight (BLOS) flights and has the ability to operate in extreme weather conditions.
Last month, there were reports saying India’s deal for acquiring combat UAVs was in the final stages. The procurement of the combat version of Heron has been on the cards for many years now. India has also leased a pair of “MQ-9B SeaGuardian” UAVs from the US recently.
In view of the border stand-off with China, the Indian military was allowed to make emergency purchases to enhance the capability of the forces.
India and China have been standing eye to eye along the LAC in Ladakh for over seven months now. Tensions have been escalating after the troops from both sides got into a brutal clash in June that resulted in 20 Indian casualties and an unconfirmed number of deaths on the other side.