India has accelerated plans to buy drones from Israel that can be armed, defence sources said, allowing the military to carry out strikes abroad with less risk to personnel. The news comes weeks after long-time rival Pakistan first reported using a home-made drone in combat when it attacked militants on its soil, raising the prospect of a new front in the nuclear-armed neighbours’ standoff over Kashmir that has twice spilled-over into war.
The plan to acquire Israeli Herons was first conceived three years ago, but in January the military wrote to the government asking for speedy delivery, the sources said, as Pakistan and China develop their own drone warfare capabilities. India has already deployed Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) along the rugged mountains of Kashmir for surveillance, as well as on the disputed border with China where the two armies have faced off against each other. In September, the Indian government approved the air force’s request to acquire 10 Heron TP drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) that can be fitted with weapons to engage targets on the ground.
The plan to buy Herons in a deal estimated at $400 million would open the option of covert cross-border strikes. Currently the two armies exchange fire across the de facto Kashmir border at times of tension, but do not cross the Line of Control (LoC) by land or air. “It’s risky, but armed UAVs can be used for counter insurgency operations internally as well across the borders; sneak attacks on terrorist hideouts in mountainous terrain, perhaps,” said an army officer in the defence planning staff.