by Staff Writers
Tel Aviv, Israel (UPI) Apr 12, 2010
India is seeking to acquire Israeli killer drones for use against insurgents but possibly against terrorist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well.
The proposition gained momentum after the November 2008 carnage in Mumbai, India's financial capital, when Pakistani infiltrators killed 166 people in three days of bloodshed.
Now New Delhi wants to muster at least 25-30 of the armed unmanned aerial vehicles from Israel, one of its key arms suppliers and a global leader in unmanned aerial vehicle technology.
Asia Times Online reported that official sources in New Delhi say that India, which is the midst of a massive military modernization program, should have a new fleet of killer drones within two years.
At present, it has five armed unmanned combat aerial vehicles.
But military commanders engaged in combating several internal insurgencies, including an Islamist one in disputed Kashmir and a Maoist one across central India, are convinced they must emulate U.S. drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
These attacks, using MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs armed with Hellfire AGM-114 air-to-ground missiles, have decimated Taliban and jihadist leadership cadres in recent months.
Israel's air force has used killer drones to eliminate senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip in recent years.
Since the United States, since 2001 a close Indian ally also combating Islamist terror, refuses to provide India -- or Pakistan, for that matter -- with UCAVs, Israel is seen as the main supplier.
Until now, most of India's UAV acquisitions have been surveillance and reconnaissance variants such as Heron drones built by Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems.
But, Asia Times Online says, "Israeli arms suppliers have been briefed by New Delhi that future UAV fleets to India should comprise a 'bigger dose' of attack UAVs."
So, "in keeping with new threat dimensions," the Indian air force is looking to induct Israeli Harop killer UAVs from 2011 onward. "Other sections of the armed forces are likely to follow."
The Harop, or Harpy 2, is a UCAV developed by the Malat division of IAI. But rather than carry air-to-ground missiles, this hunter-killer UAV is designed to be the weapon itself by self-destructing into its targets. These are primarily intended to knock out air defenses.
The Harop has a range of 625 miles and an endurance time of six hours. It carries a 51-pound warhead.
The original IAI Harpy, with a range of 312 miles and a maximum speed of 115 mph, carries a 70-pound high-explosive warhead and is designed to attack radar systems.
But the Indians could find themselves with a problem if they opt for the Harpy and probably the Harop as well.
Israel clashed with the United States, its strategic ally, when it sold early model Harpys to China in 1994 for $5 million.
Washington insisted the contract be scrapped, claiming the UAV contains U.S. technology. IAI claimed it was an Israeli design.
When Beijing sent the Harpys back to Israeli for upgrading, the Israelis had to return them without improvements.
Since the Americans won't sell India UCAVs, presumably because it won't even provide them to the Pakistanis who are killing Taliban as well, it may be Washington will block Israeli Harpy sales to New Delhi as well.
The Indians may prefer IAI's unique long-range Heron TP, dubbed the Eitan, which has an endurance of 24-36 hours and can operate about 40,000 feet.
Although primarily designed for surveillance and reconnaissance, it can carry weapons and is comparable in size, payload and performance to the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper, an enlarged version of the venerable Predator.
The 4.5-ton Eitan is the largest operational UAV in the world. It's 79 feet long, has a wingspan of 86 feet -- about the size of a Being 737 airliner -- and can stay aloft for 20 hours at high altitude.
There seems little doubt that it can be armed with Hellfire missiles and perhaps even configured to carry 500-pound bombs.
Asia Times Online said, "Officials say that over the longer term India will look to procure or develop the next generation UCAVs that will substitute missile-fitted jet fighters for conventional attack missions."
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