NEW DELHI: India on Tuesday approved measures to speed up long-pending projects to arm its Israeli drones with deadly weapons and indigenously manufacture Russian Kalashnikov assault rifles, while also clearing procurements worth Rs 8,722 crore of basic trainer aircraft, naval guns and specialized anti-tank ammunition.
The decision by the Rajnath Singh-led defence acquisitions council (DAC) to fast-track the almost decade-old proposal to arm the Israeli Heron drones, in particular, is significant since it comes amidst the ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.
Sources said “Project Cheetah” to upgrade the Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with laser-guided bombs, air-to-ground anti-tank missiles and other precision-guided munitions as well as advanced reconnaissance capabilities will cost over Rs 3,500 crore. “The commercial contract negotiation for the drones’ upgrade was completed long ago. Now, it will be sent to the Cabinet Committee on Security for approval,” said a source.
The Indian armed forces have around 90 such medium-altitude, long endurance Heron UAVs, which are currently used for long-range surveillance and precision-targetingmissions. While these drones return after their missions like fighter aircraft, IAF also has some Israeli Harop “killer” or Kamikaze drones that act as cruise missiles by exploding into targets and radars.
India is simultaneously also finalizing the plan to acquire the much more advanced Predator-B or weaponized Sea Guardian dronesfrom the US, with six of the proposed 30 drones likely to be procured through the fast-track procurement route now, as was first reported by TOI.
The DAC also sorted out “some contractual issues” of the stalled Indo-Russia joint venture to make 6.71 lakh AK-203 rifles, a derivative of the famous AK-47 guns, at Korwa ordnance factory in Amethi district of Uttar Pradesh.
TOI had reported in June that the “unreasonable and unacceptable” costs for manufacturing the 7.62x39 mm caliber rifles, at an initial estimated cost of Rs 4,358 crore, had delayed the inking of the final contract.
The actual procurements cleared by the DAC on Tuesday included the Rs 7,600 crore one for HTT-40 basic trainer aircraft (BTA), the prototypes of which are undergoing the certification process after being developed by defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL).
“DAC approved procurement of 106 BTA from HAL to address IAF’s basic training requirements. Post-certification, 70 BTA will initially be procured from HAL and the rest 36 after the HTT-40 fleet becomes operational in IAF,” said the defence ministry.
This comes after the government earlier rejected IAF’s case to acquire 38 more Swiss Pilatus trainers, to add to the 75 already inducted under the Rs 2,896 crore deal inked in May 2012, after the foreign company was found to have hired absconding arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, as was reported by TOI earlier.
The DAC also approved procurement of an upgraded version of the 76mm super rapid gun mount (SRGM) medium-range guns, which are fitted on naval and
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“The upgraded SRGM version has enhanced capability to perform against fast manoeuvring targets like missiles and fast-attack crafts, while increasing the maximum engagement range. It will boost the Navy’s firepower,” said the MoD.
With the availability of requisite capability for indigenous development of ammunition, both in terms of manufacturing and technology, the DAC also approved procurement of 125 mm APFSDS (armour piercing fin stabilized discarding sabot) ammunition for the Army as a “design and development case”. The ammunition being procured will have a 70% indigenous content, said the MoD.