Stepping up surveillance along the tense border of China and Pakistan, the Indian Army is equipping its troops with hand-held drones. It has floated a request for proposal for acquiring 49 mini unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) last month, which the army feels will be a “game changer,” like they have been for the allied forces in AfPak.
The imminent threat posed by India’s two inimical neighbours China and Pakistan has in recent years forced a rethink on India’s defense preparedness. The cabinet committee on security recently cleared an army proposal to create 72,000-strong Mountain Strike Corp, which will be deployed in the eastern sector facing China. The armed forces, it appears, also wants to send a clear signal to both the neighbours. Recently the Indian Air Force in a show of strength landed its C130J Super Hercules at the DBO in Ladakh — the world’s highest airstrip.
The army top brass feels the hand-held drones, which will be unarmed and used mainly for surveillance purposes will give it a “strategic edge” and “reduce costs” in manning high altitude and difficult terrains. To begin with, the UAVs will be employed in Leh and Ladakh sector (Northern Command) to keep an eye on Chinese activities and check terrorist infiltration from across PoK.
In April, the Indian Army was in for major embarrassment when there was Chinese incursion two days after PLA troops had set up makeshift posts. Since the perception of the Line of Actual Control differs widely on both sides of the Sino-Indian border, Indian and Chinese troops have often found themselves in the awkward situation of being face-to-face with each other while patrolling. “Also considering the sheer length of our borders, a patrolling party may not return to a particular point for days together,” said a senior army officer.
That situation will now change as the brand new UAVs will be able to provide real time data of any movement in a radius of at least 10 kilometers. “The mini drones will be fitted with high resolution cameras, including infra-red, for night surveillance. They weigh less than 10 kilograms and can be transported on the shoulders. They will also be equipped with recording devices and sensors for detecting movement,” a senior army officer told dna. The army has asked for UAVs, which should be able to work with at least one of the commonly used digital map formats. And interestingly, these UAVs should be able to work with Google Maps downloaded from the Internet.
The drones will be propelled by electric motor and will thus be “literally noise-free” once they attain a height of 500 metres above ground level. “That will also help them avoid detection,” an officer said. The ceiling for these hi-tech machines will be “1,000 metres above ground level,” with a cruise speed of over 70kmph. “The system should be sturdy and robust, which should be capable of withstanding day-to-day handling and usage by soldiers under combat conditions,” the army’s proposal claims.
So far, the Indian experience with drones/UAVs has been limited to the much bigger machines that are handled by the Indian Air Force – which is operating about 100 Searcher-II and 60 Heron UAVs – both from Israeli stables. India is also in the process of developing indigenous UAVs like Nishant and Rustom.