(This was originally posted in The Print by Snehesh Alex Philip)
After several rounds of discussions, Project Cheetah, under which India’s Heron drones are to be upgraded and armed with Israel’s help, is finally set to take off, ThePrint has learnt. Sources in the defence and security establishment said cost negotiations for the nearly Rs 5,000 crore project involving Herons that are in service with the Indian Air Force (IAF), Army, and the Navy, has been completed and is in the last stage of decision making.
The Indian Air Force, which is the end agency for this project, is looking at a timeline within this fiscal to sign the contract, sources said. Under the project, the Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Israeli Herons, used by all three Services, will be upgraded This upgrade will include enabling the Herons with the capability of satellite navigation and specialised sensors.
But the icing on the cake is the plan to arm them. Under the contract, the Israelis will upgrade the Herons with the ability to not only undertake more specialised and longer surveillance missions but also precision strikes. The Herons will have the capability to carry and launch air-to-ground precision missiles, sources said.
The development comes at a time when the Indian defence forces have also decided to jointly procure 30 High Altitude Long Endurance armed drones, MQ-9B, from the US. Sources explained that both systems are different in capability and use. Hence, there is no overlap. Sources said that after the Rafale fighter jet contract, the priority was 83 LCA Mk 1 A deal which was inked earlier this year. Other priorities included certain missile systems among others.