Information that the downed Heron UAV, belonging to the Indian Army that landed about 20 km inside Chinese territory in the Doklam plateau region more than two weeks ago, is in “decent” physical condition, has sparked big security leak concerns in the Indian establishment.
What is adding to the worry is that the Heron was equipped with the capability to return back to base on its own in the event of loss of contact with the ground control so why it did not come back is a puzzle Indian experts are trying to solve besides the fact as to why China strongly protested only after two weeks after the drone was downed.
“With the UAV reported to be in decent condition, the fear that very sensitive technology secrets including that of sensors may have landed in Chinese hands is very real and therefore has implications for our border security and surveillance,” said a government official familiar with the developments.
Made by the frontline Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), the Heron is its most advanced drone.
The fear is compounded by the fact that the Heron with a 250 kg sensor payload comprised state-of-the-art all-weather technology relating to very advanced optics systems including thermographic infrared camera, visible-light airborne ground surveillance, etc.
While it is not known whether the downed Heron has such capability, the latest Heron variant employs augmented reality that overlays information like road names, vegetation, geographical features etc onto the real time video.
A leading Israeli security portal reported on Wednesday: “While the loss of a good reconnaissance asset is a hit for the Indian armed forces, the payload the UAV carries could be a valuable recovery for Chinese forces that are denied access to all western defense technologies.”
The drone was deployed to keep an eye on the border region especially on Chinese troop deployments, movements and construction activity.
The incident assumes top significance in the backdrop of the 73-day-long standoff at Doklam plateau, a swath of rugged terrain at about 10,500 feet near the tri-junction separating India’s Sikkim, China and Bhutan, that ended on August 28.
The Indian Army claims that the UAV “on a regular training mission inside the Indian territory lost contact with the ground control due to some technical problem and crossed over the LAC in the Sikkim Sector”.
Heron UAVs, operated by the Army, Navy and the Air Force, were first deployed in 2000 on the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee. The Indian Army is believed to be operating about 45.