India signs $200-million deal to lease Israeli Heron drones for China border deployment

File Photo: Heron TP drone.

New Delhi: India has signed a $200-million contract to lease four Israeli-made drones for long-range surveillance mission in the borders with China, where the two Asian neighbours are already in a year-long conflict.

The announcement came today from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) that manufactures the Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), but the company did not specify the nation to which it will be provided the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) services in Asia.

“Israel Aerospace Industries recently signed a US$200 million contract to provide unmanned aerial systems services to a country in Asia, relating to IAI’s Heron unmanned aerial vehicle. This is the fourth major UAS transaction that IAI has announced this year,” the company statement said.

The Heron family leads IAI’s range of UAVs. The various Heron models are used regularly for operational missions by over 20 customers worldwide. Controlled remotely from sea frigates or the seashore, the Heron supports ground and maritime missions against submarines and coastal guards.

The drone transmits information while at sea, including between all the weapon systems participating in a mission. The Heron UAS may be fitted with Line of Sight (LOS) or satellite (SATCOM) communication for an extended range, and features “long runner” operational flexibility with automated remote takeoff, landing, and control with no need for deploying a control post near the runway, the company said.

According to military sources in India, the Heron UAS are being leased for surveillance operations of the Indian Army along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh region of its border with People’s Republic of China. This is the Indian Army’s first military equipment to be leased under the new procurement rules.

The Heron variant, though capable of being armed, will serve Indian Army for four years in a surveillance role, the sources said. The four drones are to be delivered by the end of this month, with the first two reaching India by end of August.


The Narendra Modi government had approved the leasing of the drones for the army under the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 in Feb. this year, following which the contract negotiation was completed and the deal signed recently.

These Israeli drones are equipped with Automatic Taxi-Takeoff and Landing (ATOL) systems and fitted with ultra-long-range surveillance cameras and other state-of-the-art gadgets, they said.

India is also planning to procure 30 multi-mission armed Predator drones from the United States in an off-the-shelf purchase for the army, navy and the air force at an estimated cost of over $3 billion. But that capital procurement for the long term is being dragged by bureaucratic rigamarole, primarily in view of the huge costs involved, sources said.

“That is why it was decided to let the army lease the four UAS for the time-being, as an emergency measure. This again is under the capital procurement route, but through leasing procedure,” an officer in the Ministry of Defence with direct knowledge of this procurement said, requesting not to be named, as he is not authorised to speak about it.

The Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) Predator-B drones, manufactured by US defence major General Atomics, are capable of remaining airborne for around 35 hours and can hunt down targets at land and sea.

In Nov. last, the Indian Navy had leased two non-weaponised MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from the US on lease for a year with an option of extending the period by another year.

The defence ministry had also finalised a plan to upgrade around 80-90 Heron drones which are being operated by the army, the navy and the air force.

The Heron TP is as big as the French firm Dassault Aviation‘s Rafale fighter jet, but looks huge like an Ukrainian firm Antonov‘s An-32 aircraft in size because of its large wingspan.

With a maximum take-off weight of 5,670 kg and a maximum payload weight of 2,700 kg, the Heron boasts of an endurance of 30 hours and an operational range of over 1,000 kilometres.

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