India to retrial T Hawk, dusty bin flies again.

T Hawk MAV

NEW DELHI: Taking the next step towards drafting mini-UAVs as a force multiplier in counter-Naxal operations, the security establishment will conduct more trials for the T-Hawk micro air vehicle (MAV), a product of US-based Honeywell Aerospace , to test its feasibility in different terrain and surroundings.

Incidentally, Honeywell had carried out live demonstration and trials for T-Hawk at the Counter-Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College in Kanker, Chattisgarh, in mid-April this year. Thereafter, a video demonstration of another Israeli UAV was shown to all concerned agencies, also at Kanker.

“We are now carrying out some more trials for T-Hawk before taking a final decision on procurement of MAVs for surveillance in Naxal-infested areas. Let us see how they go,” a senior official of the security establishment told ET.

According to sources, the MHA would help the Central forces procure the UAVs. The cost of a fully-operational T-Hawk would work out to around $200,000 or approximately, `90 lakh. The forces would initially like to order a small quantity of these UAVs, preferring to “develop tactics” for their use by the forces on the ground, before placing a bigger order.

Honeywell, on its part, has welcomed the idea of putting its T-Hawk through live trials in different environments and terrain. Speaking to ET over the phone, the US-based Honeywell Defense and Space director, Prabha Gopinath, said: “The live trials at Kanker had borne very satisfactory results. The foliage was not too much and we could see the enemy troop movements very clearly. We also managed to detect IEDs planted 20 inches into the ground.”

Mr Gopinath said the company was waiting for more such trials, possibly in the denser locations, including Bastar where the Naxalites are most active.

Incidentally, a top Army expert, while witnessing the T-Hawk’s April trials in Chhattisgarh, had noted that most Naxalite-infested stretches were not quite located under thick foliage. Also, the expert pointed out that the Maoists were known to engage forces mostly in the “cleared” areas of the jungle.

Dismissing the negative feedback from some quarters about T-Hawk not being able to see through thick foliage, Mr Gopinath said there was no UAV really capable of taking images through triple canopy. Also, unlike its close competitors, including the fixed-wing mini-UAVs of Israeli make, the T-Hawk was more sturdy as it is shaped like a large pressure cooker or a drum with all operational parts secure inside. “The biggest advantage of our design is that all the moving parts are contained, minimising any scope for snags,” Mr Gopinath pointed out.

The second and possibly more important advantage of T-Hawk, which is 18 inches in diameter and is invisible to the naked eye beyond a height of 200 feet, is that it can hover over a location/target for a good 40-50 minutes and “help the forces view it and take images from different angles.” “As against this, the fixed-wing UAVs cannot stop at a location. These machines are like a bird. If you spot something suspicious, you cannot stop them for a good, closer look,” said the Honeywell director for strategic campaigns unmanned aerial systems.

“The T-Hawk is capable of daylight imagery as well infra-red imagery for night-time operations. For example, you can spot Maoist hideouts from the trail of smoke, possibly from cooking, caught by its cameras,” said Mr Gopinath. He also ruled out any disadvantage due to the buzzing sound made by its gasoline engine.

“The T-Hawk is not really recommended for stealthy operations. And counter-Naxal operations, as we understand, involve moving of trucks, besides movements of 70-80 troops at a time, all of which is possibly more noisy,” said Mr Gopinath.

“We are waiting to be called for more trials as Honeywell is committed to helping the Indian government in meeting its security needs,” he added.