July 25, 2010: India has donated a Dornier reconnaissance aircraft and two Chetak helicopters to the island nation of Seychelles, to help in dealing with Somali pirates. The Dornier 228 is a German passenger aircraft that India builds under license. It is a 6.6 ton, twin turboprop aircraft that the Indian Coast Guard uses for maritime reconnaissance, using a surface search radar. India has 24 of these recon models, and one is being transferred to Seychelles, along with spare parts and training for operators and maintainers (which India will probably handle). A new one is being built, and once it is delivered, the Indians Coast Guard will get their aircraft back.
The U.S. is already operating Reaper UAVs and P-3 maritime patrol aircraft on the Seychelles islands, to search for Somali pirates operating in the area. Two years ago, Somali pirates began operating as far east as the Seychelles, which are a group of 115 islands 1,500 kilometers from the east African coast.
The islands have a total population of 85,000 and no military power to speak of. They are defenseless against pirates. So are many of the ships moving north and south off the East Coast of Africa. The 4.7 ton Reaper has a wingspan of 66 feet and a normal payload of 1.7 tons. It has a max speed of 400 kilometers an hour, but cruises at closer to 300. Also called the "Predator B", Reaper is considered a combat aircraft, because it normally carries over a ton of bombs or missiles. This includes the hundred pound Hellfire missile, and 500 pound laser or GPS guided smart bombs. By carrying no weapons at all, which is how the ones in the Seychelles will operate, they can stay in the air for over 24 hours at a time. The U.S. Air Force sent 75 airmen to the Seychelles to maintain the two or three Reapers that were based there. The operators, based in the United States, control the Reapers via a satellite link. This was the first time the Reaper was used for maritime reconnaissance. The manufacturer has been pushing the Reaper (which is three times heavier than the Predator) as a maritime reconnaissance aircraft, and this has been a realistic, and successful, test. A fully equipped, for maritime patrol, Reaper costs over $20 million each. Such a Reaper can spot ships below night and day, and has cameras that can zoom in on any ship or speedboat for a detailed video close up. A P-3 aircraft can only stay in the air for half as long as a Reaper, but carriers more sensors and weapons. A P-3 also requires a larger ground crew, and more maintenance after each flight.
The Chetak is an Indian made, 2.2 ton helicopter that can carry a crew of two and five passengers. It is being phased out of Indian service. India is making this gift because the Somali pirates are a threat to Indian shipping and the Seychelles are a neighbor it wants to remain on good terms with. India has also pledged $5 million in other military aid for the Seychelles.