OpinionWill Israeli Heron TP-XP replace the American MQ-9 Reaper drone deal in...

Will Israeli Heron TP-XP replace the American MQ-9 Reaper drone deal in India?

However, the Heron TP-XP's payload is only 450 kg (vs MQ-9 1700 kg; Heron TP 1000 kg) due to compliance with Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) conditions.

India has put the American predator drone deal on hold as it aims for Make in India projects, reports ANI. The government is now considering acquiring an India-made long-range unmanned aerial vehicle with strike capabilities developed by a private firm with an Israeli defence manufacturer.

The U.S. predator drone deal was reviewed by a committee headed by a Lieutenant General, which decided that the purchase was expensive at around USD 4.5 billion for 30 drones.

As per the initial plans, India planned to acquire 30 American MQ-9 Reaper (also called Predator B) high-altitude long-endurance drones equipped with weapons, including missiles and were to be equally distributed among the three services.

The Indian Navy already operates two predator drones leased from a U.S. firm to keep track of the Indian Ocean Region.

Israeli Heron TP-XP drone

Israeli Heron TP (also called IAI Eitan), the American MQ-9 Reaper and the Chinese Wing Loong form the current most advanced combat drones for medium flight level with long endurance MALE (Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance). Getting MALE combat drones is not easy at all. Leaving aside the high acquisition costs, the three countries mentioned carefully choose to whom they sell cutting-edge drone technology.

American MQ-9 Reaper drones can only be found with the closest allies of the U.S. – Great Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Australia. However, only Great Britain, thanks to an “exceptional case”, received armed versions of the MQ-9 drones, which can carry up to 1,700 kg of weapons at a distance of 1,800 km.

Additionally, British operators controlled the Reaper drones from U.S. territory for the first three years before a U.K. control centre was approved and built. Other states operate a software “trimmed” version of the MQ-9 intended only for surveillance.

Poland sought the purchase of MQ-9 Reaper drones, and they were supposed to partially take over the tasks of the outdated Su-22 fighter-bombers in the Polish air force. But the Americans refused. Even for Ukraine, the Americans are still evaluating as the technology can fall into the Russian hands

The Heron TP-XP drone is an export version of the Heron TP drone, which has been in use by the Israeli Air Force since 2010.

The Israeli company Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) presented the export variant of the Heron TP combat drone at the Aero India 2017 exhibition. The Heron TP-XP variant is offered mainly to India. The Heron TP-XP meets the NATO standard STANAG 4671 for unmanned aircraft, which allows it to operate in the civilian airspace of NATO countries.

The Heron TP-XP is known to have a maximum take-off weight of 5400 kg (vs MQ-9 4760 kg), endurance in the air of 30 hours, a range of 7,500 km and an operational celing of 35000 ft. The drone’s wingspan is 26 m, and the length is 14 m. 

However, the Heron TP-XP’s payload is only 450 kg (vs MQ-9 1700 kg; Heron TP 1000 kg) due to compliance with Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) conditions and easier sales to countries that are signatories to the MTCR agreement. Due to its load capacity of up to 500 kg, the Heron TP-XP falls into category 2 of the MTCR contract, which allows for much freer terms of sale to other countries. 

The Israeli Air Force’s Heron TP has the same maximum take-off weight and uses the same type of engine as the Heron TP-XP. From a technical point of view, nothing prevents the Heron TP-XP from being able to carry as heavy a load as the Heron TP.

The Israeli drone is powered by a Canadian 883 kW (1200 hp) PT6 Turbo Prop turboprop engine. The maximum speed is about 410 km/h. 

The aircraft supports BLOS (Beyond Line-Of-Sight) connection and SATCOM (SATellite COMmunications) satellite communication. In the case of BLOS, radio communication is provided by terrestrial wireless repeaters or reflections from the Earth’s surface, ionosphere or troposphere. In the case of STACOM, communication satellites are used.

The customer can use the Heron TP-XP for a variety of tasks. Two 500-pound (225 kg) precision-guided Paveway bombs can be placed under the drone’s wings. The internal cargo area can accommodate a variety of sensors, including radar, electro-optical sensors or electronic warfare devices.

India buys Heron-TP

India purchased four units of Heron-TP for surveillance in 2021. Under Project Cheetah, India plans to upgrade these drones with weapons in the future.

In November 2005, the Indian media said India was set to purchase about 50 Heron MALE UAVs from IAI in a deal worth $220 million. The deal did not go through due to the change in government in New Delhi. The performance of Heron during the December 2004 tsunami was the deal clincher. 

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