India turns to Israel for armed drones as Pakistan, China build fleets

New Delhi (Reuters): India has accelerated plans to buy drones from Israel that can be armed, defence sources said, allowing the military to carry out strikes overseas with less risk to personnel.

The news comes weeks after long-time rival Pakistan first reported using a home-made drone in combat when it attacked militants on its soil, raising the prospect of a new front in the nuclear-armed neighbours’ standoff over Kashmir that has twice spilled into war. The plan to acquire Israeli Herons was first conceived three years ago, but in January the military wrote to the government asking for speedy delivery, the sources said, as Pakistan and China develop their own drone warfare capabilities.
An Israeli drone flies over the West Bank city of Hebron. Reuters file photo
India has already deployed Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) along the rugged mountains of Kashmir for surveillance, as well as on the disputed border with China where the two armies have faced off against each other.
In September, the Indian government approved the air force’s request to acquire 10 Heron TP drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) that can be fitted with weapons to engage targets on the ground, an air force official with knowledge of the matter said. He added that he expected the agreement to be inked soon. The Indian Defence Ministry declined to comment.

The plan to buy Herons in a deal estimated at $400 million would open the option of covert cross-border strikes. Currently the two armies exchange fire across the de facto Kashmir border at times of tension, but do not cross the Line of Control (LoC) by land or air.

“It’s risky, but armed UAVs can be used for counter insurgency operations internally as well across the borders; sneak attacks on terrorist hideouts in mountainous terrain, perhaps,” said an army officer in the defence planning staff.


Gurmeet Kanwal, a former head of the government-funded Centre for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, said the armed Herons due to enter Indian service by late 2016 will give the air force deep-strike capability.

The United States has carried out hundreds of drone strikes inside Pakistan, targeting al Qaeda and other militants in its northwest. Pakistan has allowed such targeted killings, even though it complains about them in public.

Indian drones, in contrast, face being shot down as soon as they show up on Pakistani radars, the army officer and Kanwal said.

Deniability would be essential in any use of armed drones by India and Pakistan across their bitterly contested border, said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a leading weapons proliferation expert in Pakistan.

“It is likely that drones would be used in a surreptitious mode close to the LoC, far away from populated areas,” he said.

In July, the Pakistan army said it had shot down a small Indian spy drone in Kashmir. India did not comment.

Michael Kugelman, South Asia specialist at the Washington D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, said the arrival of lethal drones in the region could heighten mutual suspicion at a time when ties are strained.

“Pakistan might worry that India could use an armed drone to attack terrorist safe havens in Pakistan or to target a specific terrorist there.” “India might worry that Pakistan will now be tempted to add drones to its repertoire of asymmetric warfare tactics it has used against India.” Only the United States, Israel and Britain are known to have used armed drones in combat, although more than 70 countries have UAVs with surveillance capabilities, according to New America, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank.

China has no public strategy for armed drone development, but it has poured resources into UAVs and has shown them off at exhibitions. Chinese combat drones still lag far behind the Israeli-made ones in terms of capability, military experts say.


A delegation from state-owned IAI has been holding talks with the Indian defence ministry to determine the possibility of local manufacture of the Heron TP as part of the “Make-in-India” programme, IHS Jane’s said. Israel does not confirm or deny using or producing armed drones. IAI declined comment on the proposed sale of the Herons, as did Israel’s Defence Ministry, which oversees such arms exports.

IAI is one of several Israeli companies manufacturing drones or related technologies.  At least one of them has sold armed drones to a foreign country other than India, a person involved in the deal said, without elaborating on the client, model or manufacturer of the aircraft.

Such deals are handled directly between the governments of Israel and the purchasing country, with mutual secrecy agreements, the person added. It is not clear what kind of weapons will be fitted to the Heron TPs that India plans to buy.

India has been trying to develop its own combat drone, but the defence research organisation has struggled to integrate a missile onto the proposed Rustom series of UAVs. David Harari, a retired IAI engineer and Israel Prize winner for his pioneering work in drone development, said India could mount its own weaponry on an Israeli supplied drone, helped by close technological cooperation between the two countries.


  1. How come Indian leadership is happy simply with buying latest stuff from other countries? This has been going on for decades now!! All we do is simply buy and buy things from western countries. Why aren’t we investing on our own development? What exactly DRDO is doing ? Is there any strategic partnership between Indian defense dept and institutions like IITs, IISc and other top institutions? Our space agency is a success story even though it doesn’t match NASA and ESA. We need to repeat the same success story in defense technology.

    • Original R.Pai – How come Indian leadership is happy simply with buying latest stuff from other countries?

      Dear Original R. Paimaam of USA, you have raised a pertinent question. To answer your question, we have to look in to our defence forces history.

      India was the fifth country in the world to develop Supersonic fighter HF 24 in 1960. India developed plutonium production in 1960 by means of processing spent uranium from indigenous Apsara reactor in 1960. India was the 5th country in the world to detonate fission bomb in 1974, functioning NOT under the defence forces, but under the Atomic Energy Commission. During the 1950s and early 1960s India did a lot of space research activities staring from first launching Alfa Centore and Naik Appoche sounding rockets from Tumba Equetotial Launching Facility till we became the fifth country to attain Geo-static satellite launching capability and Mangal Yan etc. from Sri Harikota under the Space Research department, NOT under the Armed Forces. All this is due to our indigenous efforts with minimal budget and cost. That is real “make in India” achievement. Please note that wherever the defence services were not directly involved and were not controlling, we forged ahead.

      But, the story of our defence services is contrary. Defense services is a ‘Holy Cow’ and if I tell the truth, you would pounce upon me. But, I can not spare our defence services. They never supported our indigenous efforts. They are always for imports. Even a teething trouble during indigenization, they would condemn. Their specifications goes on changing, pointing at the best of the western countries with changing times. They forget the fact that even the west had incurred heavy losses and setbacks by the time they develop the things and their armed forces were benevolent to research and development efforts. When our scientists were given some new and latest specification by the forces, the scientists did them. But, there is always a time lag! When our scientists and technologists develop the new design, some better things was developed abroad. The forces would then change the goal post during the game and shift the goal post repeatedly, thereby causing inordinate delay and time lag. This has killed the indigenization absolutely.

      The generals would frequently visit foreign countries to see, evaluate and recommend the new purchases from abroad.They were treated well with all the three W’s by the foreign manufacturers and their brokers. Children of such evaluating and negotiating personnel would get scholarship and free-ships to study in renowned foreign universities and even at Carnegie. Including A P J Abdul Kalam, every scientist and technologist were insulted and humiliated by our armed forces. So, the MBT Arjun battle tank was shelved. Scores of vital developments were destroyed. Very many projects of indigenization were nipped in the bud. Every effort to develop aircraft were thwarted. Made in India of Nehru & Co was buried fathoms deep. What they got in return was accusations in Jeep Scandal, Bofores, Air craft purchases, etc, etc.

      Sir, you may brand me as a Nehru Indira Chela, blowing my trumpet and belittling our armed forces. But, take it from me, the top hierarchy of the Armed Forces involved in decision making in purchases abroad is are the real and main culprits. Even the ‘Laksh’ and ‘Akaash’ drones were developed by our scientists and technicians, but our forces condemned the and aborted the up gradation and excellence in them or yet to be developed.

      Sir, if you are realistic, please accept the fact that many top ranking armed forces personnel are corrupt and selfish beyond anybodies reckoning and they are to be blamed for the killing of “made in India” efforts, and they buy from abroad and hilariously are shouting “make in India”?!

      • B.N. Pai,

        Kindly realise that the Indian Armed Forces are totally under civilian control, unlike Pakistan, where Nawaz Sharif has no control over foreign policy and India affairs and arms purchases, which are in the domain of Raheel Sharif. Nawaz Sharif is a dummy Prime Minister, just enjoying his salaries, perquisites and earnings by extra-curricular ways. He is a shameless and highly corrupt. Can you ever think of that in India? In India, the Defence Secretary, a civilian, is more powerful than the Service Chiefs and calls the shots and dictates terms and advises the Defence Minister, even though he may not have shot a pellet gun.

        I know that you are obsessed with Jawaharlal Nehru and all the members of the Dynasty and, sadly, you cannot be reformed or rehabilitated. You just blabber whatever you like, because of your prejudices. The son of a man, a highly qualified doctor, who was involved in developing the prototypes of the Arjun tanks, says the design was faulty, the vehicle was so heavy that bridges would have difficulties in bearing the weight and in a battle it would not be able to deflect the enemy’s shells – again due to faulty design.

        • Nelson Lewis,



          You told me, “Kindly realise that the Indian Armed Forces are totally under civilian control”. If that is the case, why don’t you give credit to the Congress where it is due in victories?

        • Nelson Lewis,

          kindly realise that the father of the person whom you described as “The son of a man, a highly qualified doctor, who was involved in developing the prototypes of the Arjun tanks, says the design was faulty, the vehicle was so heavy that bridges would have difficulties in bearing the weight and in a battle it would not be able to deflect the enemy’s shells – again due to faulty design.”; was the person who was the military top brass and who was in full charge of R&D, design, testing, modification and deployment of the tank.

          He ultimately said that the army should buy from foreign sources and visited many suppliers and their brokers to evaluate the hardware. His another son was given freeship in the US University and rolled from Carnegie !!!

    • All we do is simply buy and buy things from western countries. Why aren’t we investing on our own development? – Sir Rampuji

      ಅಯ್ಯೋ ಬಾಬ ರಂಪಾದೇವ,

      When BRILLIANT (self-proclaimed, of course!) people such as YOU RUN away to phoreen, (because they were ASHAMED to be BORN in ಅಖಂಡ ಭಾರತ – Sir Modi’ji – Chapter 19, Verse May, Volume 2015, Chronicle – Shanghai/S. Korea), WHAT else do you expect?

      AND what exactly WHAT are you doing about investing in sir’jis ಅಖಂಡ ಭಾರತ? MACK (a trip) in India – ONCE in a decade? Lol!

      God! Your Jokes! I’m on the ground…… laughing…. rolling around…. Owwww…… it hurts! 🙁

      I’m gonna need a muscle relaxant to ease the spasms in my sides…. 🙂 :(… Say, does your walking/talking apothecary have some Baclofen or Orphenedrine jabs?

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