Israel Sells Heron UAVs to India
In November 2005, media reports claimed that India was set to purchase some 50 Heron MALE(Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAVs from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) in a deal worth $220 million. They would be put to use carrying out reconnaissance missions on India’s mountainous borders with China and Pakistan, and along India’s long coastal waters. India was said to have been close to sealing the deal in 2004, but it was postponed due to the change in governments in New Delhi.
The Heron’s performance during the December 2004 tsunami apparently clinched the India deal.
India already had about 12 Heron-1 drones before the 2005 sale, and they played a crucial part in search and rescue operations following the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004. IAI Searcher tactical UAVs and and their high-end Heron UAV counterparts were used to locate trapped survivors and missing bodies near the Andaman and Nicobar islands, relaying clear live feed photographs while in flight, and allowing immediate response as soon as survivors or victims were identified on screen.
The Heron UAV is reportedly capable of flying for over 24 hours at a time at altitudes around 32,000 feet. IAI lists flight time as >40 hours, and says that it has demonstrated 52 hours of continuous flight. It has a maximum range of about 3,000 km and can carry a maximum payload weighing 250 kg/ 550 lbs. As a large MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV, it’s built to carry multiple payloads at a time for a variety of missions. Choices include electro-optical and thermal surveillance equipment, SAR radars for ground surveillance, maritime patrol radars and sensors, signals and other intelligence collection antennas and equipment, laser designators, and even radio relays.
India doesn’t discuss its UAV payloads, but reports have its Searcher IIs equipped with the standard day/night surveillance turret, while the Herons are similar to Israel’s maritime patrol configuration, with an Elta Systems radar and a stabilized Tamam surveillance and targeting turret.
A subsequent Heron-2 or Heron-TP variant is larger, with a bigger 1,200 hp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop to power it. Typical mission payload rises to 1,000 kg, which can be carried to around 45,000 feet, and the UAV has a maximum flight time of over 36 hours in favorable conditions.
India and Israel are not alone in being impressed by the Heron’s capabilities. As of 2011, leased Herons or Heron variants are operating in Afghanistan on behalf of the Australian, Canadian, French, and German armed forces; and have participated in demonstrations involving US SOUTHCOM and its Latin American partners. Subsequent years have also seen confirmed or rumored export sales to Brazil’s federal police, Ecuador’s navy, Singapore’s armed forces, and Turkey.
Contracts & Key Events
INAS 344 joins the western INAS 343 naval UAV squadron in Porbandar, Gujarat and the original INAS 342 eastern squadron at Kochi in Kerala. sUAS News.
March 31/11: Flight International:
“India’s navy has operational requirements for additional unmanned air vehicles made by Israel Aerospace Industries, sources say, with these to potentially include improved Heron or Heron-TP systems carrying maritime sensor payloads. Evaluations using some systems have already been carried out, they add.”
Jan 21/11: 2nd Squadron. The Indian Navy stands up INAS 343 (the “Frontier Formidables”) at Porbandar, Gujarat, near the Pakistani border. Gujarat has the longest coastline of any Indian state.
Aug 2/09: Reports that the deal has been approved:
“The Indian Army is going in for two more “troops” (six to eight birds each) of advanced Heron UAVs from Israel for Rs 1,118 crore [DID: then about $230 million], after getting the nod from the Defence Acquisitions Council headed by defence minister A. K. Antony.”
Nov 4/05: Reports of the sale. In analyzing the Heron sale, Stratfor notes that:
“The purchase will allow India to better protect its long borders and to pave the way for the planned 2007 acquisition of Israeli Phalcon radar — all while seeking to convince Pakistan that the security balance between the two countries will not shift further in New Delhi’s favor. Pakistan, however, is unlikely to be placated, and will endeavor to counter the Indian acquisition… Despite the negative resonance this deal will have in Islamabad, the Herons will strengthen New Delhi’s ability to deny access to jihadists crossing into India from Pakistan by enhancing India’s border surveillance capabilities.”
Meanwhile, the Pakistani Daily Times newspaper has sources who claim that the Indian Army is also making inquiries about the Hunter UAV, a smaller IAI aircraft that is also in service with the US Army. RQ-5A Hunter UAVs have logged substantial flight time in Iraq, and demonstrated their ability to drop small precision munitions like the Viper Strike. Pakistan’s Daily Times | India Defence | Stratfor
- IAI – Heron Family. Range for the Heron-1 is given as 350 km, but since the drone flies at well over 100 km/h, and can stay up for far, far more than just 3.5 hours, that makes no sense. A 24 hour flight at 125 km/h is 3,000 km, the figure used in this article.
- Israeli Weapons: Heron Shoval/ Eitan.
- Defense Update – Heron TP (Eitan)
- Israeli Weapons – Searcher II
- DID – Canada, Australia Contract for Heron UAVs
- DID – France’s Harfang/ SIDM IUAV Program. Based on Heron-TP.
- DID – Germany Leases IAI’s Herons for Afghanistan
- DID – Israeli Manufacturers’ Turkish UAV Contract. Herons. Ran into trouble due to Turkish subcontractors, leading to delays that were covered by rent-a-UAV services from a 3rd Israeli firm, Aeronautics DS.
- DID (Sept 13/05) – Israel Places $50M Order for Heron MALE UAVs.