Pakistan unhappy with US' RQ7 drone offer, seeking armed ones

Islamabad: A peeved Pakistan feels that the dozen unarmed RQ7 drones the US has offered it do not meet its "strategic requirement" and is hoping for a "better deal" in the form of missile-capable Shadow 600 UAVs to hit militant hideouts, a media report said here on Monday.

The RQ7 Shadow drones that the US plans to provide to Pakistan is much smaller than the deadly Predator and Reaper UAVs used by the CIA to target militants in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates last week offered to provide 12 RQ7 Shadow UAVs to Pakistan, although the country was interested in Predator drones, a newspaper reported from Washington, quoting unnamed sources.

Gate's visit to Pakistan was an important friendly gesture but it did not remove the irritants that continue to mar ties between military establishments of the two nations, diplomatic sources was quoted as saying by the paper.

Though Pakistan knew that the US did not share the Predators drones with others, yet it expected a better offer, the report said.

Pakistan would have welcomed Shadow 600 UAVs, which have a larger range and can carry a bigger payload than the RQ7s. Unlike the RQ7s, the Shadow 600 can also be armed with missiles, which Pakistan believes can be useful in targeting militants in areas where conventional weapons are not very effective, the report said.

Defence experts noted that Shadow RQ7s were used by the US Army at company and battalion levels and did not meet Pakistan's strategic requirements.

The RQ7s have four-hour endurance and it may take about an hour to fly it to a target from a base and another to return. This leaves the UAV with only two-hour fly time, which Pakistani experts say is not sufficient to collect surveillance data from militant hideouts in rugged areas like South or North Waziristan.

The experts quoted by the paper pointed out that Pakistan already had four or five various UAVs of the same range and capability as the RQ7s, including the Luna drones it purchased from Germany.

"Still, the Pakistanis have not rejected the RQ-7 offer because they believe it is a way forward," said a defence expert aware of Islamabad's reaction to the US offer.

"Pakistan sees the offer as a good thing and has welcomed it but it says that UAVs of similar capabilities are commercially available as well," the expert added.

Islamabad says that about 154,000 Pakistani troops are involved in battling the militants since 2003. The long engagement has eroded their conventional weapons capability, affecting a range of equipment such as helicopters, planes and radars. "They need refurbishment to overcome this problem," the report said.

So far the US has only released some night-vision devices, body-armours, six used helicopters and some spares.

The Pakistani request for helicopter gunships has not yet been met, it added.