Indian activists protest outside the Chinese embassy in New Delhi in July 2017 during border tensions between the countries. Photo: AFP / Money Sharma

India wants to purchase a remotely piloted aircraft system that can operate at an altitude of more than 5,500 meters above sea level, the Russian news agency Sputnik reported from New Delhi on Monday.

The reason, it said, is that India wants to detect military activities along its northern and very mountainous border with China.

The drones “need to be equipped with three complete sets of sensor packages with day and night capabilities and two airborne data relays to control the unmanned system beyond the line of sight,” Sputnik reported.

There has been speculation that India would purchase Heron TP-armed drones from Israel, which could carry out cross-border missile strikes. But it is also possible that they could be made at home. The Indian Army will reportedly come up with a formal tender by April 2019 and manufacturers should be ready to deliver the system by 2020.

Tension has remained high in the Himalayas since India and China fought a short but bitter war in 1962. The Chinese do not recognize the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of India. They claim most of the state as theirs and refer to it as “Southern Tibet”.

The Indian Army has maintained mini-drones for a long time, but these more sophisticated ones would enhance India’s ability to monitor the Arunachal border with China.

The planned acquisition comes at the same time as India is building new roads in the border areas.

For most of the time since the 1962 war, India has not built roads in remote parts of Arunachal because New Delhi did not want to make it easy for Chinese troops to move into the state if hostilities were to break out again.

India’s prime minister since 2014, Narendra Modi, wants to change all that. He wants to improve connectivity between remote towns in Arunachal and the plains below.

A new, nine-kilometer-long bridge has been completed across the Brahmaputra River at the foothills of Arunachal, while new strategic roads are being built across the state.

Meanwhile, defense and foreign ministers from India and the US will meet on Thursday for the delayed ‘Two-plus-two’ talks, which aim to draw the countries’ militaries closer, finalize defense agreements and counterbalance China’s influence in the region.

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