The Indian government last week approved the purchase of 10 Israeli-made armed Heron drones for the sum of $400 million.
Indian publication The Economic Times called the purchase of the missile-armed drones “a crucial acquisition that will enhance India’s cross-border military strike capability.” According to the report, the drones will be operated by the Indian Air Force, and will join its fleet of reconnaissance drones. The Indian Air Force also has a fleet of Harpy unmanned aerial vehicles from Israel — craft that self-destruct and are primarily used to destroy enemy radar positions.
According to the Economic Times, senior officials at the Indian Defense Ministry say the project was accelerated at the order of “the highest levels of government,” and the drones could be in service within 12 months.
The sale is the latest move in an ongoing thaw in relations between Israel and India. A senior delegation from the Indian Foreign Ministry visited Jerusalem in July, just days after New Delhi dramatically changed its traditional voting pattern at the United Nations in Israel’s favor.
“This dialogue expresses the special relationship that developed” between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement at the time. “At the heart of the dialogue stand a number of bilateral topics, with an emphasis on diplomatic, economic and development issues.”
Modi, who is expected in Israel later this year in what would be a historic first visit of an Indian prime minister, has accelerated the rapprochement with Jerusalem. While strong defense and business ties existed before he came to power in April 2014, he made the relationship much more visible.
Indian Foreign Minister Shrimati Sushma Swaraj is also due to visit Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan later this year. In February, Moshe Ya’alon became the first sitting Israeli defense minister to visit India.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report