NEW DELHI: The Indian Army has leased four Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for possible deployment along the 3,488 kilometre India-China border.

The four medium-altitude long endurance UAVs are expected to be delivered to the Indian Army between August and December, a person familiar with the matter said Monday.

The lease agreement for the four UAVs was signed mid-January using the emergency powers given to the armed forces to speed up military purchases, a second person in the know of the matter said. The lease period is for three years, the second person added.

The development comes as India and China have disengaged their troops from frontline positions at one particularly contested friction point along the Line of Actual Control border. Disengagement of troops from the north and south banks of Pangong Tso was completed last month. Senior military commanders of the two countries and diplomats are expected to meet soon to discuss pulling back troops from other contentious areas along the LAC. With the Chinese side making incursions into Indian territory, both sides were locked in an eye ball to eye ball confrontation which began in May 2020 in violation of several agreements signed since 1993.

Against this backdrop, monitoring the whole of the LAC --– from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh -- would have to be done with a mix of technology (like UAVs) and soldiers being deployed at critical areas seen as vulnerable to incursions. According to former diplomats and Indian Army officers, there 23 such points across the LAC.

Last year, India had inducted two American high-altitude long endurance drones into the Indian Navy. The Sea Guardian UAVs are unarmed versions of the Predator series used by the US to target terrorist groups in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. The Sea Guardians were procured under a one-year contract after the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020 unveiled in September allowed for the leasing of military hardware. It was seen as a way of doing away with the incurring of “huge initial capital outlays with periodical rental payments."