ByAnto Antony and Sudhi Ranjan Sen
India is setting up a surveillance system with drones across its borders to wade off surprise attacks like the one from Hamas in Israel, according to people familiar with the matter.
The country’s defence officials met with six home-grown vendors of surveillance and reconnaissance drones over the past week and an order is expected to be announced as soon as next month, the people said, asking not to be named as the information isn’t public. The military is looking to have the system up and running across some parts of the border as early as May, the people added.
The move to monitor the borders all the time comes as tensions with neighboring China and Pakistan persist, especially along the Himalayas. While the war in Ukraine has made Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government reevaluate its armory, preparedness for war and priorities on the battlefield, the surprise Hamas attack has pushed the nation to implement some of the suggested measures quickly.
India has been caught out by surprise attacks in the past. In 2008, attackers from Pakistan, armed with assault weapons and grenades, infiltrated Mumbai by sea and laid siege to key landmarks in the city for three days, killing 166 people.
Also, India has alleged that drones are being used to move weapons and drugs across its western border. It might take almost 18 months to have the system cover the entire stretch of borders, and could cost as much as $500 million annually, the people said.
So-called High-Altitude Pseudo Satellites, which are solar-powered drones that can operate for prolonged durations without landing, will be used for the system, they said. The 24/7 high-altitude long endurance drones will also act as a back-up to the traditional radar network along the borders, directly beaming images to local command centers.
A spokesperson for India’s Defence Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The drones deployed and the software backing them will be developed locally, the people said. The Indian military, which is heavily dependent on Russia for weapon platforms, is trying to boost local production amid a 10-year, $250 billion military modernization effort.
The entire 14,000 miles (22,531 kilometers) that make up India’s land borders and coastline will be under constant surveillance once the system is up, the people said. Earlier, New Delhi had hired two drones from the US when the current round of border tensions first flared with Beijing in the summer of 2020, for surveillance and reconnaissance.
(Published 27 October 2023, 07:07 IST)