Thursday, 18 July 2013

Kolkata to base Heron and Searcher MK II unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)

The stage is set for Heron and Searcher MK II unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of the Navy to be stationed at the Behala airport.

According to officials, discussions between the Navy and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) are at their final stage and work on building necessary infrastructure will start soon. The UAVs, with long endurance and stealth capabilities, will aid in search and detection and add punch to the surveillance capabilities of the Navy's Eastern Naval Command and coastal security as a whole.

The Navy first proposed the commissioning of a UAV squadron at Behala nearly two years ago. The AAI agreed to the proposal on principle and discussions began. The Navy plans to utilize about 15 acres of the airfield that it will obtain from AAI on a 30-year lease. Though the project was announced in 2011, there was some delay due to which doubts began to be raised on whether the Navy has backed out. In 2012, the Navy commissioned its third UAV squadron in the Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu. UAV squadrons are also based at Kochi and Porbandar along the country's west coast.

"The Behala project is very much on. Our discussions with the AAI have reached the final stage. In fact,

Deputy chief of naval staff Vice-Admiral P K Chatterjee visited the Behala airfield recently along with AAI officials to take stock of the situation. It shouldn't take too long now for work to start," said Commodore Ravi Ahluwalia, naval officer in-charge, West Bengal.

Both the Heron and Searcher are Israeli-manufactured UAVs. The Heron has an operational speed of 130 miles per hour and a service ceiling of 32,800 feet. It has a range of 217 miles. The Searcher has an operational speed of 125 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 20,000 feet. It has a range of 18 hours.

"The UAV squadron in Behala will be of great strategic importance due to its proximity to the estuarine parts of the Bay of Bengal. Normal surveillance is difficult in this terrain. There are several creeks and waterways there where vessels can seek shelter. In the past suspicious movement has been spotted in this region. Kolkata doesn't have a naval base and the closest one is at Visakhapatnam. This is why the drones will be extremely essential to ensure coastal security. This UAV base will complement the radar stations that have been planned at Haldia and Sagar Island," an officer said.

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