International Relations Multilateral Prelims cum Mains Security Issues

Iran Shoots Down a U.S. Drone, Escalating Tensions

The News

  • Continuing the recent escalation of tensions in the Gulf, Iran shot down a US surveillance drone over Strait of Hormuz.

News Summary

  • Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps shot down a high altitude surveillance drone of the US called RQ-4 Global Hawk, over the Strait of Hormuz.
  • While Iran said that it was reacting to the drone’s entry into its airspace, US has reiterated that it was an unprovoked attack by Iran on its surveillance asset in the international airspace.

 

Timeline: Escalating tensions in the Gulf

  • Background
    • In May 2018, the US administration pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) signed between Iran and world powers (P5+1).
    • Consequently USA has been imposing international sanctions on Iran.
    • The move was directed at stifling Iran’s trade and economy as it severely hit the oil supply from Iran.
  • Escalating tensions
    • Recently in May 2019, USA withdrew waivers from sanctions granted to Japan, China, India and Turkey escalating the tensions in the region.
    • As a result Iran has announced that it will back out from its commitments under the nuclear deal by increasing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
    • Recently USA designated IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization under its Immigration and Nationality Act, with Iran retaliating by declaring the US Central Command as a terrorist organisation.
    • Iran is also accused of exploding oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman calling for stiffer sanctions. (Iran backed Houti rebels in Yemen have been accused by US and Saudi Arabia of the attacks on oil tankers)
    • Now the IRGC has shot down Global hawk, US military Spy drone over the Strait of Hormuz

 

 

In Brief: RQ-4 Global Hawk

  • The Global Hawk is a Broad Area Maritime Surveillance drone of the US Navy.
  • It is an unmanned high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) aircraft aimed at enhancing ISR capabilities (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance).
  • It has a flying altitude up to 60,000 feet (double that of a commercial aircraft), and can fly at high altitudes for over 30 hours.
  • It has wing-span of 130 ft and thus is large, heavy and slow compared to combat aircraft.
  • It is equipped with high definition infra-red cameras for surveillance and sensors to intercept radio signals.
  • It is capable of all-weather, near-real-time high-resolution surveillance.

Significance of UAVs

  • UAVs can carry a diverse array of payloads for reconnaissance, surveillance, intelligence gathering and target acquisition.
  • In the aftermath of the Doklam episode, it is important to keeping India’s borders under greater surveillance.
  • Besides with capabilities like electro-optical/Infra-Red cameras, electronic and communication intelligence gathering, UAVs can act as excellent force multipliers.
  • Thus, the UAVs have evolved from being a surveillance and reconnaissance asset to hunter -killer roles.

India’s Drone fleet

  • For the first time India acquired the Israeli Searcher Mark 1 in 1998 which was upgraded to Searcher 2.
  • Further, we have also acquired Herons from Israel for deployment by armed forces.
  • In the aftermath of Kargil war, DRDO developed the first indigenously built pilotless drone Lakshya to serve as aerial target for the training of air defence artillery weapon crews.
  • This was followed by Nishant UAV programme in 1995.
  • Rustom:
    • The next major project of DRDO was Rustom.
    • 3 models of RUSTOM have been built with RUSTOM 2 testing done recently in 2017.
    • The 3 models of RUSTOM include Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) category, High Altitude Long Endurance family (HALE), and Rustom H with combat capabilities.
    • Rustom UAVs are to be fitted with Helina missiles.
  • India is also set to acquire the armed Predator-B or weaponised Sea Guardian drones from the USA.
  • In February 2019, India announced that it will acquire HAROP attack drones from Israel for IAF.
  • Under Project Cheetah, Israel will improve the drone fleet of India to enhance its attack and surveillance capabilities.
  • However, currently India does not have weaponised drones.
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