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India Goes Top Shelf
by James Dunnigan
October 27, 2012

India is paying Israeli firms over $1.1 billion to upgrade the sensors on some 150 largely Israeli UAVs owned by the Indian armed forces (army, air force, and navy). This means spending, on average, over a million dollars to upgrade the sensors on each UAV. For the larger UAVs this means high resolution radar (which provides black and white video of whatever is down there, in any weather) as well as high res video cameras. These sensors tend to be housed in a gimbaled stabilized turret. That means the operator can quickly point the sensor in any direction and get a stable image. Since the cameras are digital, the zoom feature is very quick and can reveal amazing levels of detail if you have high resolution cameras.

There is a growing body of evidence making it clear that you get the best results from your UAVs by having the best sensors you can afford. In many cases the sensor costs as much as the UAV itself. India is not going that far, as the United States and other Western nations (including Israel) have, but they are quite close with this upgrade program. While India’s UAVs tend to be smaller than those used in Western nations, more compact, lighter, and more powerful sensors make it possible to equip smaller UAVs with very capable radars and other (video and heat) sensors.

India's largest UAV, costing about $6 million each, is the Heron 1. This aircraft has a wingspan of 16.6 meters (58.4 feet), max take-off weight of 1.2 tons, and carries a 250 kg (550 pound) payload. With a max endurance of up to 50 hours (depending on payload carried), the Heron has already been equipped with day and night vidcams or a naval search radar. Cruising at about 100 kilometers an hour and flying as high as 10 kilometers (32,000 feet), the Heron is very similar in cost and performance to the United States Predator.

A smaller and older (from the 1990s) UAV is the Searcher 2. This is a 500 kg (1,100 pounds) aircraft with a 68 kg (150 pound) payload. Endurance is 18 hours and max altitude is 6,100 meters (20,000 feet). Most (about a hundred) of India’s UAVs are Searchers.

In addition to pictures there are also heat sensors that can, for example, spot terrorists trying to sneak across the border from Pakistan in Kashmir. These heat sensors can also be useful for maritime patrol. One of the major uses of Indian UAVs is maritime patrol.


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