The following is a translation of an almost identical but slightly differently titled Xinhua despatch of the next day (October 1, 2020) on the same topic (in Chinese):
Xinhua Oct. 1, 2020 Military: India invests heavily in upgraded drones How useful can they be?
With tensions on the China-India border likely to persist, the Indian army has stepped up delivery of supplies to the forward forces in the face of the severe cold test of the upcoming winter. However, logistical supply shortages due to local natural environment and infrastructure constraints have severely limited the Indian army’s ability to patrol. To compensate, the Indian army announced that it would rely on advanced drones to carry out border surveillance and even attack missions.
Huge investment in upgrading drones
According to the Hindustan Times website on 29 September, the Indian army has decided to procure armed MQ-9B “Sky Guardian” drones from the United States and plans to upgrade the “Heron” drones imported from Israel to enhance its aerial surveillance capabilities in the India-China border region. At the same time, India’s DRDO and other enterprises are also manufacturing short-range tactical drones and counter-drone equipment, to strengthen the defense of the border area. According to the report, the Indian military believes that it should choose an armed drone that is a bit more capable than the 22 reconnaissance and surveillance “Sea Guardian” drones that the U.S. government approved to provide to India in 2017 to meet its demand.
According to the Indian military’s plan, it will first spend $ 600 million, the procurement of six MQ-9B drones, and “as soon as possible” to equip troops. This is just the beginning of India’s large-scale procurement of drones, which will equip ground forces, the air force and the navy, according to Indian Defense Ministry sources. New Delhi is prepared to spend $3 billion on an order for about 30 large drones in the future. The report mentions that this is not a problem for the US supplier as the order is small.
The Times of India said that the MQ-9B, manufactured by General Atomics, has a range of 40 hours and is capable of carrying 2.5 tons of various weapons and ammunition. The Indian military believes that this drone belongs to the “game changer”, equipped with photoelectric, infrared and radar detection equipment, can carry out laser target indication, electronic support, fire strike and other tasks. Usually it will carry “hellfire” air-to-surface missiles and other laser-guided bombs, is currently one of the important means for the United States military to perform ground attack mission.
In addition, India also requires Israel to improve the current “Heron” medium-altitude reconnaissance drone by upgrading the satellite communication system. At present, the Indian army “Heron” lacks a satellite communication system for transmission of images. For long-range missions, there is need for two of the UAVs flying at the same time, with the second UAV performing the function of relaying data and transmitting images to the base. This improvement will enable the “Heron” with long-range real-time surveillance capabilities, without fear of losing contact, will significantly enhance the Indian army’s aerial reconnaissance capabilities.
How much use can a drone be on the plateau?
Russia’s Sputnik 29 said that Chinese and Indian border troops are preparing for spending the winter in the Himalayas, with drones seen as an important tool and China having recently tested an unmanned helicopter in the highlands. By contrast, the outnumbered Indian army is under greater logistical pressure. India wants to use advanced long-range drones instead of patrolling troops to provide adequate air reconnaissance and ground attack capabilities in the border areas. But experts interviewed by the Huan Qiu Shi Bao on 29 September said that the survival of these drones in high-intensity conflicts is highly problematic. In the recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, for example, as many as 45 drones were claimed to have been shot down by both sides in one day. Although these results are clearly exaggerated, the fact that the drones suffered such heavy losses is indicative of their poor survivability, considering the low air defence capabilities of the warring sides.