The Indian navy has commissioned its second unmanned air vehicle squadron, which will operate Israel Aerospace Industries-supplied Herons and Searcher IIs over the northern Arabian Sea.
The navy says its INAS 343 unit will be in Porbandar, Gujarat, a coastal city not far from the Pakistan border. Gujarat has the longest coastline of any Indian state.
"The location is ideal for covering the sea lanes of communication from the Arabian Gulf, as well as providing surveillance cover to high-value assets on the western coast," says the navy.
India has not revealed the payloads to be installed on its newly fielded UAVs, but other sources say its Searcher IIs are equipped with an electro-optical/infrared sensor while the Heron carries an Elta Systems search radar and a Tamam stabilised long-range optical observation system.
The latter configuration is similar to the one used on the Herons operated jointly by the Israeli air force and navy in maritime patrol missions.
Established in 2006, the Indian navy's first UAV squadron, INAS 342, already performs operational missions as well as training.
IAI's Heron is a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV that can operate at a distance of more than 1,000km (540nm) and at altitudes up to about 30,000ft (9,150m) for more than 24h while carrying a 250kg (550lb) payload. The smaller Searcher II has an 8.5m (28ft) wingspan, a maximum take-off weight of 436kg including a 120kg payload, and an endurance approaching 20h.
"India is also developing indigenous UAVs and trials are in progress," says the navy. "Advancement in development of UAVs would soon see unmanned flying surpassing manned flying."
The service also wants to deploy unmanned rotorcraft from some of its ships. IAI and Hindustan Aeronautics are co-operating on a project to prepare the Indian-developed Dhruv advanced light helicopter for such an application.
Additional reporting by Greg Waldron in Singapore