By Staff Correspondent
As the geopolitical landscape of South Asia continues to evolve, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is advancing its aerial reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities to navigate the skies of tomorrow adeptly. The expansion of unmanned Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets is seen as a requisite step in preparing for scenarios where India may face adversaries with burgeoning military prowess and expansive air and ground assets.
The spotlight is on the MQ-9B Sky Guardian, capable of persistent ISR operations over vast distances, boasting an endurance of up to 40 hours aloft. This formidable asset is envisaged to be a cornerstone in fortifying India’s skyward vigilance.
The IAF’s doctrinal blueprint, unveiled earlier this year, underscores the fusion of air and near-space domains, heralding a new era where aerospace power is quintessential for both strategic military manoeuvres and execution of surface and sub-surface operations. The narrative stresses that mastery of the skies is pivotal in modern-day military strategy as adversarial air power can significantly impede operational progress across land, sea, and air domains.
At present, the IAF’s inventory predominantly comprises 4th generation platforms. However, the combat efficacy of these platforms can be substantially bolstered with an infusion of both manned and unmanned ISR, Electronic Warfare (EW), and Airborne Early Warning (AEW) assets. The existing ISR architecture includes three Israeli A-50I Phalcon AWACS platforms and two indigenously developed ‘Netra’ Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft, with a third slated for delivery by year-end.
The investment trajectory also highlights a proclivity towards indigenous development. A noteworthy endeavour is the Rs 11,000 crore AEW&C Mk II project, anchored on the modification of pre-owned Airbus A321 jetliners procured from Air India. Spearheaded by Airbus Defence and Space, Spain, in collaboration with India’s Centre for Airborne Systems and other domestic defence research entities, this venture underscores a broader initiative to foster self-reliance in critical defence capabilities.
The recent induction of the Israeli-made Heron MK II Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is a significant stride in augmenting unmanned ISR assets. The Heron MK II, an upgraded variant of the Heron UAV, is a testament to the IAF’s long-term vision of leveraging advanced unmanned platforms for comprehensive aerial surveillance.
Furthermore, the prospective deal for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) MQ-9B High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs, encapsulating 31 MQ-9B remotely piloted aircraft systems, is poised to be a game-changer in the regional military landscape. This approximated USD 3 billion deal, once fructified, is expected to amplify the IAF’s unmanned ISR capability significantly.
On the indigenous frontier, efforts are afoot with the DRDO persevering in the development of the Tactical Aerial Platform for Advanced Surveillance 201 (TAPAS 201) and its Beyond Horizon variant. Although the journey towards operational deployment is ongoing, the 200th flight of the TAPAS UAV, demonstrated to a tri-services team earlier this year, marks a pivotal milestone in India’s quest for self-reliance in aerial ISR assets.
As the IAF embarks on this voyage to significantly amplify its ISR capabilities, the overarching objective remains to ensure that India’s skies remain meticulously monitored and safeguarded in a rapidly evolving regional security milieu.