#DefenseDiaries: Heron drone crashes in China, should India worry?
An Israeli-made IAI Heron drone operated by the Indian Army recently crashed into Chinese territory in the Sikkim sector due to a "technical problem." The Heron is among India's most sophisticated drones used for strategic reconnaissance and surveillance operations. China has lodged a protest against the drone's 'invasion.' Worryingly for India, the crashed drone could be a treasure trove for Chinese weapons engineers.
Capabilities of the IAI Heron?
The Heron is a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned air vehicle (UAV). It's capable of fully automated take-off and landing. It flies at a height of 30,000-35,000ft and has an endurance of over 40-hours. The UAV is equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, radars, and surveillance sensors to conduct signal, communication and image intelligence. In case of communication failure, the Heron returns automatically from its take-off point.
India uses Heron for maritime and border surveillance
In the early 2000s, India signed a deal for the purchase of 50 Herons for its military for over $200 million. The Indian Army uses it for surveillance along its borders with Pakistan and China. The Indian Navy uses the Herons for maritime patrols. In 2015, the government approved the purchase of 10 upgraded armed Heron-TP drones for $400 million.
China would surely salvage advanced Israeli technology
The Heron is undoubtedly a crucial asset for the Indian military. The loss of a single Heron would result in the "loss of a reconnaissance capability that would hurt operationally," wrote Air Vice Marshall Manmohan Bahadur. More worryingly, the "Chinese would surely strip the payload for its technology and improve their own," he adds.
Did China take control of drone by jamming radio links?
Bahadur questioned, "Why did the ground control lose command of the UAV?" The drones are equipped with an automatic 'get back home' safety feature in case communication links breakdown. He questioned whether the drone was shot-down or did China take control over it by spoofing its radio link. India may have to revamp or overhaul its standard operating procedures for drones in border areas.
Will India get the drone back?
India has requested China to return the crashed drone. Sources told the Economic Times that "Communication between the two sides through diplomatic channels is taking place over the issue and to set the modalities for it." It remains unclear whether it will be returned.