NEW DELHI: India is set for a quantum jump in the way it undertakes drone operations by upgrading from existing ground control stations to satellite-control of military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to boost range, endurance and flexibility.
This significant capability boost will come with the launch of GSAT-7A, an advanced military communications satellite built by Isro, in November. âThe satellite is specially geared for RPA (remotely-piloted aircraft) operations,â a ministry source said. The GSAT-7A, developed for IAF at a cost of around Rs 700-800 crore, will be the countryâs second dedicated military satellite after GSAT-7 or âRukminiâ was launched for the Navy in 2013.
This comes at a time when India is in advanced negotiations with the US to acquire armed Predator-B or weaponised Sea Guardian drones, which are high-altitude, longendurance UAVs that can fire âHellfireâ missiles or âsmartâ bombs at enemy targets before returning to their bases to re-arm for the next mission like manned fighter jets.
The US Predator and Reaper drones used against Taliban targets in the Af-Pak region are controlled through satellites from the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, US, over 7,500 miles away. Indian armed forces as of now control their Israeli-origin surveillance drones like the Heron and Searcher-II UAVs through a network of ground and ship-based stations, which limits their operations to âradio line of sightâ missions.
âWith the GSAT-7A up, IAF will be able to hugely extend the reach, flexibility and endurance of its UAVs for beyond line of sight missions. The footprint of the satellite, with steerable beams, will cover India and its extended neighbourhood,â said a source.
IAF will get another satellite, GSAT-7C, within a couple of years to boost its network centric operations. The force is also involved with the plan to launch an additional five satellites at a later stage to augment the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System or âNavICâ project being put in place through a constellation of seven satellites to rival the US-owned Global Positioning System.