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UCAVs in battlefield
The extraordinary combat duty performed by the American Predators and the Reapers in the Af-Pak arena have fascinated the Indian armed forces, who therefore have projected to the MoD combat role and requirements for them in the future. The three services have conveyed to the Integrated Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence the requirement of unmanned combat aerial vehicle and its future employment strategy on the borders.

Though the Indian DRDO inspired by the Predators and the Reapers is already working on the Indian version of the same called the AURA( Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft ), the forces would not wait for them to be produced indigenously, which may take five or six years at the least.

The Indian armed forces see an immediate combat role for them in Indian theater and they would like them to be inducted as soon as possible in view of their immense combat value in high altitude and desert border areas and also in the coastal zones to keep a track on the unwanted foreign intruders by air or by ship and also annihilating them then and there. The Predators with their Hellfire missiles created havoc for the terror groups hiding in the tribal mountains of Af-Pak region.

Over the years the Indian armed forces have been focusing on surveillance drones, but they have recently shifted their focus to fighter drones, which can deliver missiles with pin point accuracy on the enemy areas and destroy the hideouts of the terror groups. Hence, the Indian armed forces are gradually being equipped with killer drones or the Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles, orders for which has been placed with Israel Aerosapce Industries.

The Indian Navy has already set up Spy drone bases along the coastline and IAF is already inducting the combat UAVs, the MoD had last year decided to equip the Army with two troops of eight drones each of Israeli Heron medium altitude, long endurance UAVs.

For the Army the MoD had signed Rs 1200 crores project with the IAI. Some of the killer drones act like the loitering missiles, which can be commanded to hit the human target when they become visible. The Army wants to induct the drones right from the Battalion levels by the end of the current decade. The Army has already started establishing new bases for these killer drones in the Jammu and Kashmir sector in the areas near Nagrota and Manasbal to Kumbhigram and Kilabari in the border areas adjoining China in the North East. Whereas the Indian Navy is raising new UAV squadrons besides three already set up at Kochi in Kerala, Porbandar in Gujarat and Uchipuli in Tamil Nadu. These will keep round the clock vigil on the unwanted intruders from the sea.

Checking infiltration

The UCAV are the weapon of the future and the American and the Israeli forces are the best equipped forces in the world with these kinds of UCAVs. The areas near the Line of Control with Pakistan and Line of Actual Control near the Sino-Indian border are full of activity as Pakistani terror groups make aggressive attempts to infiltrate inside the Indian territories whereas the Sino- Indian borders also require constant monitoring to prevent border incursions and violations.

The armed forces headquarters have told the MoD that it has become nearly impossible to keep an effective check on infiltrations through manual observation. Especially during night time the infiltrators find it much easier to take advantage of the darkness and sneak into Indian territory unnoticed. Though Indian forces keep a round the clock vigil on them, they find it very difficult to prevent all such infiltrations. An unmanned aerial attack and observation vehicle can play a very effective role in perfectly observing every inch of the Line of Control and the International border with Pakistan.

These UCAVs will greatly reduce the necessity of the physical presence of the forces on the inhospitable terrain. When the Indian forces withdrew from the icy heights of Kargil in early 1999 because of sub zero temperatures, the Pakistani soldiers took advantage knowing well that the entire stretch of the Line of Control was not under observation. Had the Indian army units launched the UCAVs for observing the enemy movements, they would have learnt about the infiltrations and incursions immediately and could have challenged the Pakistani intruders at the spot without losing a moment.

In fact the Kargil episode encouraged the DRDO to undertake the drones missions in a massive way and have come out with few achievements. These include the Nishant and Rustom-1 and Rustam-11 drones. The ambitious AURA program, expected to be completed by the end of 2018, will boost Indian armed forces prowess in unmanned warfare.

Before the Indian armed forces are provided with Indian produced UAVs, they have been provided with full fledged UCAVs for combat role. They are already being provided with UCAVs imported from Israel, which are now acting as major force multipliers for them. The Predators and the Reapers have proved that they can be very effective in counter terror operations, hence in the Indian scenario, they can prove to be very much useful.

Even the civilian counter insurgency forces like the BSF, CRPF etc find them very useful to meet the challenges they face from extremist groups who hide in the jungles and the mountain areas. The UAVs can easily track and tackle them in their own dens. For the forces, the UCAVs would be more useful in the tense border areas, which are in no peace-no war situation and the enemy take advantage of this.

Limitations

Range limitations of the UCAVs will prevent them from playing a combat role like the modern long rage fighters. The Indian AURA or the UCAV being developed by the DRDO, though can fly at an altitude of 3000 feet, would only have a range of 300 kms, though they can carry long range air to surface missiles and can drop heavy bombs also on the enemy areas. They can also be easily targeted by the surface to air missiles of the enemy defences.

Though the DRDO is also working on another ambitious solar powered high altitude, long endurance UAV project, which can remain in air for few days for performing the round the clock ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance target acquisition and reconnaissance) duty. It has been reported that the Indian army has already deployed two dozen Israeli Searcher Mark II unmanned aerial vehicles over the border areas with China and Pakistan. However, considering the huge length of the unstable borders with China and Pakistan two dozen UCAVs would not be sufficient.

Though 100 reconnaissance drones are reported to have been acquired at a cost of US$ 750 million in the last decade and more acquisitions are under execution. Searcher Mark II produced by the Israeli Aircraft Industries can continuously fly for 16 hours in a range of 150 kms at a height of 18,500 feet. This makes them highly useful over the mountainous borders with China and Pakistan.