India may now use naval reconnaissance more often to keep a closer eye on its land borders with China, both to watch for troop builds and infrastructure upgrades and because tensions along the Line of Actual Control are high (LAC).
The Navy is sending out P-8I long-range patrol planes and heavy-duty Sea Guardian drones “as and when tasked” by the Army to gather intelligence along the northern borders.
With their electro-optical and other advanced sensors, the US-made P-8I planes and Sea Guardians can provide “live feeds” of high-resolution images. This is in addition to the continued use of satellites and the Israeli Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The naval platforms were used in both the western (Ladakh) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal) parts of the 3,488-km LAC. India and China have about 50,000 soldiers each stationed in Japanese Ladakh for the third winter in a row. Tensions have risen in the Japanese sector after the physical fight between the two countries’ soldiers at Yangtse in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh on December 9.
A supply said, “The P-8Is and Sea Guardians, which are designed for long-range ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) missions over the high seas, have helped the Army learn more about the People’s Liberation Army.”
China has shown no desire to calm down and return Japanese Ladakh to the way it was in April-May 2020. Instead, it has spent the last 30 months strengthening its military positions and border infrastructure.
The Navy bought 12 P-8I planes from the US for $3.2 billion. They are currently based on the INS Hansa in Goa and the INS Rajali in Arakkonam, Tamil Nadu. These planes are used for ISR missions on the western and eastern seaboards.
The P-8Is are equipped with Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 light torpedoes, rockets, and depth charges. Their main job is to look for enemy submarines. They can work up to 1,200 nautical miles away and stay on station for four hours.
The Navy also rents two unarmed MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from the US company General Atomics starting in September 2020. These drones are similar to the permanently armed Predators, but they don’t have weapons. With a range of up to 5,500 nautical miles and a time span of 35 hours, these drones have been very useful in ISR missions over the Indian Ocean Region.
India has also been planning for a long time to buy armed MQ-9B drones from the US. But the proposed deal’s high price of $3 billion (Rs 24,000 crore) for 30 drones (10 each for the Navy, IAF, and Army) has caused a rethink on the number of drones to be bought.