WING LOONG UAV: Acquisition and use of strike-capable drones with longer endurance may significantly alter the already charged India-Pakistan military dynamics, experts say

New Delhi: Satellite images and several reports suggesting that Pakistan may be operating a China-made strike-capable, multi-role Wing Loong I drone, capable of carrying out complex assault operations against India, have alerted officials in Delhi to the urgent need to acquire heavier armed drones as a deterrent.

Acquisition and use of strike-capable drones with longer endurance may significantly alter the already charged India-Pakistan military dynamics, experts say.

A November 24, 2017, satellite picture of the MM Alam Pakistan Air Force base, located in Pakistan’s Mianwali, shows what appears to be a China-made Wing Loong I drone.

A report on the development, prepared by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, United States, says: “This assessment is based on its wingspan — which we believe to be around 14 meters — and its V-tail, as well as a comparison with other satellite images of the Wing Loong I elsewhere in the world”.

With a maximum speed of 280 km, the Wing Loong I has a range of about 5,000 km and endurance limit of 20 hours. It can carry more than 100 kg of air-to-surface weapons, including bombs and missiles.

Controlled from a mobile ground control station, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle receives and sends real time information and commands through a data communications link.

Already keen on acquiring strike-capable Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV) or armed drones, reports suggesting that Pakistan may already be using such China-made crafts has injected urgency into the Indian hunt for such flying machines.

“We have already taken notice of these reports. Be rest assured that necessary measures are being taken at the right places,” a top Indian military official told this newspaper.

India, which operates a large fleet of drones largely for reconnaissance purposes, has been on the lookout for a strike capable and bigger drone mainly from Israel and the United States. The Predator and the Reaper are the most well-known US drones after their big “kill” numbers in Iraq and the Af-Pak region, while Israel has been supplying India with Searchers and Heron drones which are used for surveillance along the borders as well as in internal security situations like in the Naxal-affected regions.

On June 18, 2016, too, a Chinese-made drone resembling the Wing Loong I crashed during an “experimental flight” near the MM Alam PAF air base.

The air base in Punjab province is named after Squadron Leader MM Alam, a PAF ace who is credited by Pakistan to have shot down several Indian fighter aircraft in the 1965 war.

Pakistan has a fleet of mid-sized drones like the Falco, Shahpar and Burraq. While the first two are largely used for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes, the third one has some strike capability.

China, presently the world’s fourth largest arms supplier and known to be proficient in developing strike-capable UAVs, is Pakistan’s primary source of weapons and military hardware. China’s UAV arsenal comprises the Wing Loong I, Wing Loong II, WJ-600A/D, Yunying Cloud Shadow, and the lethal CH-5 (Rainbow 5).