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Source : The Times of India
New Delhi: India now is regularly using naval reconnaissance capabilities to boost its surveillance of land borders with China, both to monitor troop build-ups as well as infrastructure upgrades, amid heightened tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The Navy is deploying P-8I long-range patrol aircraft and heavy-duty Sea Guardian drones “as and when tasked” on the Army’s request for intelligence-gathering missions along the northern borders, defence ministry sources told TOI on Sunday.
The US-origin P-8I aircraft and Sea Guardians, both of which are capable of providing ‘live feeds’ of high-resolution imagery with their electro-optic and other advanced sensors, supplement the ongoing use of satellites and the Israeli Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The naval platforms have been used both in the western (Ladakh) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal) sectors of the 3,488-km LAC. While India and China have kept around 50,000 soldiers each forward deployed for the third successive winter in eastern Ladakh, there has been a further spike in tensions in the eastern sector after the physical clash between the rival soldiers at Yangtse in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh on December 9.
“The P-8Is and Sea Guardians, meant for long-range ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) missions over the high seas, have proved quite effective in supplementing the Army’s information on the People’s Liberation Army,” a source said.
China has shown no inclination to de-escalate and restore the status quo in eastern Ladakh as it existed in April-May 2020, and has used the last 30 months to further strengthen its military positions and border infrastructure.
The Navy currently has 12 P-8I aircraft, acquired from the US for $3.2 billion, which are deployed at INS Hansa at Goa and INS Rajali at Arakkonam (Tamil Nadu) for ISR missions on the western and eastern seaboards.
Primarily meant for hunting enemy submarines, the P-8Is are armed with Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, rockets and depth charges. They have an operating range of 1,200 nautical miles with “four hours on station”.
The Navy also has two unarmed MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones, variants of the iconic armed Predators, on lease from US firm General Atomics from September 2020 onwards. With a maximum range of 5,500 nautical miles and an endurance of 35 hours, these drones have proved very effective in ISR missions over the Indian Ocean Region.
India also has a long-standing plan to acquire armed MQ-9B drones from the US. But the proposed deal’s high cost at $3 billion (Rs 24,000 crore) for 30 drones (10 each for Navy, IAF and Army) has led to a rethink on the number of drones to be acquired, as reported by TOI earlier.