The Indian Air Force (IAF) has inducted four Heron Mark 2 drones along the country's border with China and Pakistan. The UAVs are currently deployed at the forward air base in the northern sector.
The drones can carry out surveillance along both China and Pakistan borders in a single sortie and can be equipped with long-range missiles and other weapons systems, reported ANI.
Besides being equipped with satellite communication capability, the Israel-made Heron drones can operate long distances for close to 36 hours at a stretch. They can also laser illuminate enemy targets from very long ranges to help fighter aircraft destroy them. "The Heron Mark 2 is a very capable drone. This is capable of longer endurance and has 'beyond the line of sight' capability. With this, the entire country can be surveilled from the same place," the commanding officer of the drone squadron Wing Commander Pankaj Rana told ANI.
According to Israeli sources, the UAVs are fitted with a Rotax 916 iS engine and can reach an altitude of 35,000 feet. They can fly at a maximum speed of 150 knots and can remain in the air for longer hours. The longer endurance means multiple sectors can be handled in a single mission. "The drone simply amalgamates into the Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance matrix of the Indian Air Force," Rana said.
#WATCH | The squadron operating the Heron Mark2 drones is known as the ‘Warden of the North’ and has been carrying out surveillance missions along with borders with both China and Pakistan. The drones have been equipped with satellite communication links and are the most advanced… pic.twitter.com/hPingSKHoK— ANI (@ANI) August 13, 2023
Any weather, any terrain
These UAVs can be operated in any weather and on any terrain, enabling them to cover both China and Pakistan. "The payloads and the onboard avionics of the Heron Mark 2 can operate at sub-zero temperatures and in any weather condition. This is helping the Indian Air Force achieve footprints over any type of terrain," Squadron Leader Arpit Tandon told ANI.
Tandon, who pilots the drone, added that the newer version of the Heron drones has multiple advantages over the old ones, which started getting inducted into the IAF in the early 2000s.
Another focal point of the drone is its strength. These drones are capable of being equipped with weapons, air-to-ground missiles, air-to-ground anti-tank weapons, and bombs. The IAF is also working on Project Cheetah, under which around 70 Heron drones would be upgraded with satellite communication links and weaponised.
This comes as the Centre, hoping to give an impetus to the 'Make in India' programme, aims to procure 97 new highly capable drones under a joint acquisition plan. The move was taken after a scientific study held by the defence forces concluded that the same number of drones were required to meet the Medium Altitude Long Endurance requirements.
India had also plans to buy 31 Predator drones from US defence firm General Atomic. The firm has reportedly offered India 31 MQ9B drones for $ 3.072 billion, which is subject to negotiations.