OPINION | Drone Diplomacy: The High Fliers of India-Israel Relationship
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OPINION | Drone Diplomacy: The High Fliers of India-Israel Relationship

By Amit Mukherjee

OPINION | Drone Diplomacy: The High Fliers of India-Israel Relationship
By Amit Mukherjee

"An investment opportunity in 100 Billion dollars and counting! This is the expected budgetary allocation that would take place for India’s defense modernization plans in the coming decade."

For those who thought that the India–Israel Drone market had reached its optimum level, the best is yet to come. With the Indian Armed forces indicating their plans to bring the drone operations to battalion level, and the realization in the civil sector of the multitudinous scope of its use, there is going to be a substantial market for drones in times to come. With the current open source information estimates of around 200 drones being operated in India, about 150 or more of them are Israeli systems and technology. This number would continue to grow as more of them are produced to meet the current and future requirements of India’s internal and external security needs, and other utilitarian purposes in the civil enterprise. These drones would be produced under joint manufacturing agreements between India and Israel, some of which have been under way for quite some time and some new agreements are known to have been initiated recently. This is notwithstanding India’s growing ambitions to make drones on her own. Towards this attempt Israeli collaboration has been sought after from time to time, and is an ongoing process currently.

This requirement will be exponentially boosted when possible uses of drones for public utility services for civil area applications catches the common man’s fancy and of the federal and local governments. India’s need for efficient resource management of certain areas like forest and wild life conservation, crime surveillance & control, productivity services, battlefield delivery systems, Medical emergency services etc. in the future would validate requirement of larger number of drone platforms. This increase could be many folds in the following years of this decade and beyond.

India has land borders with its neighbours that are 15,106+ kilometers and a coastline of about 7516+ kilometers which requires constant passive / active surveillance and observation, more so as the events of 1999 and then 2008 experiences have shown. Due to this realisation by the administrative process, under various governments, the urgency of securing potential high risk and low risk border areas, land and coastal, has been expedited to a large extent, although it is still an ongoing process.

The Israeli contribution to the total drone market of 5.2 billion USD is largest as it is the biggest exporter of drones ahead of military exporting superpowers like USA and Russia. The Israeli industries dished out drone export to the world to the tune of 4.6 billion USD in the last eight to ten years. Analysts have predicted the growth of military drones four folds in the next decade given its proven advantages in the battlefield and in surveillance. A major group the TEAL group predicts growth of drones from 5.2 billion USD to 11.6 billion USD in the coming decade.

Hunting Down the Reds / TOI

Another area of major concern where drones can play a crucial role is homeland security. It has been touted as the most grievous internal security threat to India. The span of this insurgency has spread to what is called as the ‘red corridor’ encompassing around 92,000 square kilometers, that is largely 40% of India’s total area and touches half the total number of states in India. Therefore the requirements of adequate number of drones and their various types have become a primary challenge for anti-insurgency operations. This situation is further complicated as a result of varied land topography in the vast regions. 

The biggest challenge in application of drones has been in the high canopy forested areas, a bastion for insurgent camps, movements and activities. The forested area inside this red corridor has higher proportion of forest coverage area, approximately 12,000 square kilometers than the rest of India, which has around 61,000 square kilometers. This forest cover is the leading fact for media and reports of Israeli drones being ineffective in anti-insurgency operations. The fact that most of the contemporary generation of drones with India have a comparatively shorter range of 100-400 kilometers to the next generation of long endurance and long range drones and are equipped with sensors suitable to India’s border deployment, are also short in numbers. 

This makes the case not only for larger numbers but also drones with lower frequency, forest penetrating capabilities, as mentioned by DRDO chief’s statement of plans, last year, in 2014. The recent purchase of 15 new Herons that reportedly were acquired to to keep an eye on the Eastern and Western borders of our country, could extend their role in internal security, with the possible inclusion of the GMTI (Ground Moving Target Indicator) and Low frequency radar sensors. It could well produce desired results for anti-insurgency operations, due to their inherent capability to see through their canopy penetrating sensors. 

Drone technological prowess for defence and security is born out of the need to reduce manpower losses during anti terror operations and wars. The ability to be able to go over conflict zones without the risk of loosing both the Pilot and an expensive Air-Craft to enemy fire, is not merely a viable and cost effective approach towards the well-being of the soldier but has now become an essential component of 21st century security requirements. It is an essential instrument to preserve our nation's broader objectives: minimal attrition in combat, reduction in loss of life in terror attacks and anti-terror operations. Un-manned Vehicles provide this facility in the most effective way. 

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles made in Israel - 2012

Israeli sale of such weapons paved the way for much needed observation and security cover in the Indian Sub-Continent (especially in the northern regions), to counter the egregious situation that had developed due to terrorism and armed conflict. As the international dynamics of economics, resources shortages, spurt growth of terrorism and failed states and their non-state actors takes place, drone are going to become a main stay of logistics in management and weapon of choice in warfare. Their existence is going to become intrinsic to the way of 21st century life. Despite past stories of failures and several debates, discussions and calls for controlling the spate of growth around drones, one way or the other, in all spheres of civil and military life : Drones are here to Stay (& Fly) !"

This article was first published at Defence New's website on April 2, 2015

Amit Mukherjee