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Project Cheetah : Arming Combat Drones (14 August 2020)

Project Cheetah: Arming Combat Drones (14 August 2020)

Why in News:

The proposal of reviving “Project Cheetah” has been sent to a newly formed high-level defence ministry committee under Ajay Kumar, who is now the in-charge of all capital procurements for the three services.

Background:

The decision to revive the 'Project Cheetah' has been taken in view of the recent border standoff with China along the Actual Line of Control in eastern Ladakh. After nearly two months of stalemate, the two countries decided mutual disengagement of troops from frictions points in Ladakh.

About the Project:

  • It is a project to upgrade the drones for carrying out offensive operations against the enemy.
  • Under this project, around 90 Heron drones of the three services would be upgraded to be armed with laser-guided bombs, precision-guided munitions, air to ground and air-launched anti-tank guided missiles.
  • The project is expected to cost over Rs 3,500 crores to the government.

Advantages:

  • Each of these UAVs even without arming cost Rs 40 crore to 80 crore each, after all these things developed in to armed UAVs, they are going to cross Rs 100 crore, but it’s worth it.
  • They are not easy to tackle.
  • They can deliver their payload much more safely.
  • There is mission and operational control station that is supposed to be setup in the country, that means all the UAVs wherever it has been launched from the services, they can be controlled from one mission station, which can be command control station based in any place of the country.
  • The combination of manned and unmanned vehicle is going to give much more divided than what India gain from today’s surveillance UAVs.
  • They are helping in knowing the Chinese troop build-up strength in depth areas.
  • The upgraded UAVs can be used against conventional military operations as well as in counter-terrorism operations in future.
  • The ground forces will be able to get pin-point intelligence about hideouts in areas where men have to be involved in operations.

                          Project "Cheetah" Revived , Heron UAV's Upgraded , Edge On China ...

Way Forward:

  • Whatever India is producing so far will take many years, so it’s good that this opportunity is being utilize to going for fast track procedures and emergency purchases or upgrading currently available UAVs, so that they can be turned in to combat UAVs in short duration. 
  • It’s a big wake up call for the country to look in to this and execute it in time bound manner.

Important points made by the Guests

Mayank Singh, Senior Journalist

  • This project was supposed to come up earlier itself but due to various reasons, it was in the dormant stage. The condition of eastern Ladakh has catalyze this program.
  • The special committee of Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Prasad, which is looking into this matter, the project cost is around Rs 3500 crore and almost 90 Herons, which are coming from Israel, they are supposed to finalizes and armed with specific precise capabilities which is like precision guided bombs or Anti-tank missiles.
  • One of the aspects which has to be tackle well in terms of arming with the particular capability vision, the country should stick to it, then Cheetah will never required to revive the program because that will be part of the flow and special sanctions and special approvals will come in between as per the need basis.

Maj Gen Ravi Arora (Retd.), Chief Editor, Indian Military Review

  • When the idea was first mooted in 2015 by the Air Force, they thought that UAV could go so far, look at so many things, find out information about the enemy and also find good targets.
  • What is the point of coming back or tasking any other resource or fighters to go and destroy the target. It should be armed sufficiently to destroy that target and there should be a command and control link just like the armed UAVs or drones which Americans had been using MQ-9 Reaper, which they have effectively used against 2500 terrorists in the Afghanistan- Pakistan area, so why not do that.
  • Shortly, thereafter URI happened and then this subject got lot of attention but somehow the project was shelved and now that the Chinese have done this mischief, the need has been felt to revive it.
  • The need has been felt again because of the surgical strikes in which we have to send people and aircraft across. The Chinese as well as the Pakistanis are using UAVs on big scale every day.
  • The talks which has been going on with Israelis, who have to cooperate with us to upgrade and modify these UAVs, they will have Air to Ground missiles as well as Air to Ground anti-tank guided missiles.
  • The Air Force already has few copy of Harop or Harpy 2, which has about 23 kg of warhead and it is an anti-radiation weapon, it goes and looks for radar and it can do kamikaze type of attack but it does not carry missiles as such.
  • It’s not only the Chinese who’s recent incursion have necessitated to take this project forward but right from the kargil time, 1999, that was a wakeup call and soon thereafter happened Operation Parakram that’s the time we got ‘Searcher’ and we used them extensively. Since then we have Searcher, The Heron, The Harop, but we don’t have the armed UAV.
  • DRDO has been developing but in between, sanctions imposed by the Americans prevented us from developing the combat UAV that is the ‘Rustom-2’ and ‘Rustom-H’. It actually went into deep freeze for some time, Rs 1500 crore spent on the Rustom already and now more funds have been given.
  • Against China, India required something which can go up to Lhasa. It is required to find and fix to track target, to engage them and to destroy them, that is the challenge.
  • The other country is also using them, the Americans have been using them, the Chinese have sold 300 of these medium and high altitude UAV to Saudi Arabia, UAE has used them in Yemen against rebels, Turkey is using them against Kurds, but India don’t have so far.

Air Vice Marshal Sunil Nanodkar (Retd.), Defence Expert

  • ‘SPICE bomb’ is generally associated with Balakot attack but that was a very heavy bomb, what might come on Heron is later version of it, because the payload capacity of Heron is much lesser.
  • In the long run India is looking on indigenous weapon also which is under development and  to be carried by these aircraft in long run, so there will be a little bit of compatibility requirements of those weapons getting on. So, it is not restricted to these specific weapons in long run once the aircraft comes to us, we will have our weapon system also on to that.
  • Actually this project started in 2009-10, this project got amalgamated into Army and Air force project and subsequently Navy was all the way along with Air Force all this while.
  • This project went into little bit of coma because of various differences of opinions between the three services and MoD regarding the basic requirement itself.
  • There were two different projects seen together; one was weaponisation of Heron and other one was upgrade of Heron, now both these projects have been combined together.
  • Now we will have the SATCOM capability on all Herons, and also auto take off landing capability on all Herons, which was acquired in piecemeal between all the three services and NTRO.

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