NEW DELHI (Sputnik) — The Indian defense ministry approved the purchase of 10 Heron TP drones last year and a final deal with the Israeli manufacturer was in the offing. However, the imposition of restrictions by the Israeli defense ministry has pushed the deal towards uncertainty as India's proposal for the purchase posed a mandatory requirement of transfer of technology from the foreign vendor.
In July of this year, Israel had exhibited keen interest in supplying combat drones to India with the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) signing memorandums of understanding (MoU) with India's Dynamatic Technologies and Elcom for the "manufacture of Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAVs in India under technology transfer from IAI & creation of futuristic UAV enterprise in India." The MoUs were signed during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit which was the first ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel.
"The future is unmanned. Most Air Forces are working to have an uninhabited air vehicle for every possible mission. The USA already has more UAVs than aircraft. India must become an independent UAV manufacturer. No one will give technology. (We should either) beg, borrow or steal the technology…Use economic muscle like China did…Increase research funding," Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retired), defense analyst told Sputnik.
With the restrictions in sharing of advanced technologies, the Israel Aerospace Industries will find it extremely difficult to convince India to buy it's million dollar combat drones. For India's part, it would have to explore the possibility of a favorable deal with other contenders like American General Atomics Aeronautical Systems which is interested in selling the MQ-9 Reaper to India.
"The restrictions that the Israeli Ministry of Defense attaches to the export of this advanced UAV are many, and in such a close competition, maybe, a crucial factor," one Israeli source told Flightglobal.
Israel Aerospace Industries also announced a new export-version of the Heron TP on February 9th of this year at the AeroIndia exhibition in Bengaluru. The export version of Heron TP was meant for members of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) of which India became a member in June 2016.
Meanwhile, India is currently developing its own combat drone — Ghatak. However, even if everything goes according to plan, the drone will only debut by 2025. India is under extreme pressure to instantly deliver combat drones to its armed forces as the Chinese military is set to get the first locally manufactured combat drones with the capability of evading anti-aircraft weapons by as early as 2020.
"India is developing the Ghatak drone which may not be capable of operating in a heavily contested airspace because of its low observability (LO). We do need the technology to launch weapons from drones. Predator B and Heron TP are both capable of releasing weapons and acquiring these drones would give India access to the technology," Vijainder K Thakur, former squadron leader of Indian Air Force told Sputnik.
The Indian Air Force's fleet of 68 unarmed Harpy Drones and 108 searchers also came from Israel, but these are generally used to neutralize enemy radar positions and are designed to self-destruct.