The Indian navy’s interest in a long-endurance maritime surveillance UAV is seeing tremendous interest by vendors in Israel, Europe and the U.S., with the U.S. government clearing Northrop Grumman to conduct preliminary discussions with the Indian navy on the MQ-4C Triton.

The Triton is the modified Global Hawk developed under the U.S. Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program. The company highlighted the platform and capability for the first time at the Aero India exposition last week.

A Northrop Grumman official at the show said, “It’s a reasonable proposition. The Indian navy is the first export customer of the Boeing P-8. They have a substantial requirement to fill. Since the Triton is built basically to operate in conjunction with the P-8 and its systems, it seemed appropriate that we make this capability available to the customer.”

The discussions “are still very preliminary, but it is probably a good idea to recognize that one of the few countries that the U.S. government cleared us to discuss the MQ-4C was India,” the official said. The other countries being engaged with on the Triton program include the U.K. and Australia.

Other unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that have the Indian navy’s attention include the recently unveiled Israeli Elbit Systems Hermes 900 MP. Another American platform in the mix, though not a long-endurance vehicle, is Boeing InSitu’s ScanEagle.

In 2010, the Indian navy announced its interest in acquiring a fleet of high-altitude long endurance (HALE) maritime UAVs. It stipulated at the time that it was looking for a product with a mission endurance of at least 25 hr., a maximum all-up weight of 15 tons, a cruising speed of 100 kt. and a service ceiling of 40,000 ft.

An Indian navy officer with one of the service’s UAV squadrons said, “Maritime domain awareness is doctrinally established, and we need to fill many big voids. High performance UAS that can remain on station for extended periods and provide us crucial data in real time, while scanning vast swathes of ocean on a daily basis is a clear and necessary requirement. The Indian navy needs tactical UAS too, but its requirement for long endurance platforms will only increase.”

The Indian navy currently has three UAS bases around the country and is in the process of contracting for more IAI Herons from Israel to augment its existing fleet of the type.

The Indian navy has also been in the market for more than two years for shipborne rotary-wing UAS. Competitors include the Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout, Saab’s Skeldar V-200 and the EADS Cassidian Tanan 300. The requirement was floated following slow movement on the HAL-IAI naval rotary UAV (NRUAV) program based on the Chetak/Alouette-III helicopter. The program has run into several hurdles with its autopilot and other systems, delaying it indefinitely and compelling the navy to unlink it from its immediate requirement.

India’s indigenous Rustom-H long endurance high altitude UAS is slated for a first flight in February 2014, and has begun a ground workup. The Rustom-H, powered by twin turboprop engines, will be developed into three prototypes — a base version for over land surveillance, a maritime version for extended reconnaissance over sea and a hunter-killer variant that will be built to deploy stand-off strike weapons.

Hermes 900 photo