India is sending a Dornier 228 maritime reconnaissance aircraft to the island nation of Seychelles, to help in dealing with Somali pirates. This aircraft will remain for at least two years. Last year, India had offered to give Seychelles a Dornier 228 and two Chetak helicopters for anti-piracy duty, but tiny Seychelles preferred that India simply operate this equipment on their territory until the Somali piracy threat is gone. India has already sent a naval patrol boat and one Chetak helicopter to the Seychelles to help with anti-piracy patrol. Indian warships are also coming by more frequently.
The Seychelles islands have a total population of 85,000 and no military power to speak of. They are largely defenseless against pirates. So are many of the ships moving north and south off the East Coast of Africa. Three years ago, Somali pirates began operating as far east as the Seychelles, which are a group of 115 islands 1,500 kilometers from the east African coast. India is making this effort because the Somali pirates are a threat to Indian shipping and the Seychelles are a neighbor it wants to remain on good terms with. India has also pledged $5 million in other military aid for the Seychelles.
The Dornier 228 is a German passenger aircraft that India builds under license. It is a 6.6 ton, twin turboprop aircraft that the Indian Coast Guard uses for maritime reconnaissance, and is equipped with a surface search radar. India has 24 of these recon models. The Chetak is an Indian made, 2.2 ton helicopter that can carry a crew of two and five passengers. It is being phased out of Indian service.
The U.S. is already operating Reaper UAVs and P-3 maritime patrol aircraft on the Seychelles, to search for Somali pirates operating in the area. The 4.7 ton Reaper has a wingspan of 21.2 meters (66 feet) and a normal payload of 1.7 tons. It has a max speed of 400 kilometers an hour, but cruises at closer to 300. Reaper is considered a combat aircraft, because it normally carries over a ton of bombs or missiles. This includes the hundred pound Hellfire missile, and 500 pound laser or GPS guided smart bombs. By carrying no weapons at all, which is how the ones in the Seychelles will operate, they can stay in the air for over 24 hours at a time. The U.S. Air Force sent 75 airmen to the Seychelles to maintain the two or three Reapers that were based there. The operators, based in the United States, control the Reapers via a satellite link. This was the first time the Reaper was used for maritime reconnaissance. The manufacturer has been pushing the Reaper (which is three times heavier than the Predator) as a maritime reconnaissance aircraft, and this has been a realistic, and successful, test. A fully equipped, for maritime patrol, Reaper costs over $20 million each. Such a Reaper can spot ships below night and day, and has cameras that can zoom in on any ship or speedboat for a detailed video close up. A P-3 aircraft can only stay in the air for half as long as a Reaper, but carries more sensors and weapons. A P-3 also requires a larger ground crew, and more maintenance after each flight.