India has deployed Israeli-made Searcher and Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in round-the-clock searches for victims of the tidal waves that have devastated large parts of the mainland and outlying island territories.
An Indian Defence Ministry official said the military began UAV reconnaissance flights on Dec. 29, in attempts to locate survivors and — more likely — corpses of the thousands still reported missing, primarily in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
“We are operating the UAVs from the naval base at Kochi for aerial reconnaissance,” the official said Jan. 1. “They send back pictures even as they fly. On spotting distressed people [or bodies], we immediately rush helicopters to the spot for rescue operations.”
He declined to specify how many survivors or their remains were detected through the UAV flights, but noted that India’s naval base at Kochi has eight Searcher Mk4 and four Herons procured from Israel in 2002.
An official at Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), prime contractor for the Searcher and Heron UAVs, confirmed on Jan. 2 that IAI products had been used in the rescue operations. The official said that effective use of the UAVs — particularly that of the long-endurance Heron — could hasten an estimated $200 million deal now pending between Israel and India for another 50 Heron/Eagle unmanned planes.
Israeli and Indian sources said details of the deal have been finalized between the two sides, and that actual contract signature is expected in the coming weeks.
“It’s now wending its way through the bureaucratic process, and we’ve been told to expect a firm contract signature sometime soon,” the IAI official said.
The Heron/Eagle is a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV capable of flying for more than 30 hours at a time at altitudes exceeding 32,000 feet. It has a maximum range of about 3,300 kilometers and can carry a maximum payload weighing 250 kilograms. The UAV is built to carry five different kinds of payloads at a time for a variety of multiple missions, including ground surveillance, maritime patrol, signals and other intelligence collection missions and radio relay operations.