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Pakistan to make its own drones

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- Pakistan, which has been seeking drone technology from the United States, has decided to make the pilotless plane on its own for its air force.

Under a program launched this month, Pakistan's domestic version of the drone or unmanned aerial vehicle to be called Falco will be made in collaboration with Selex Galileo of Italy at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra in Punjab province.

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The Italian company is a leader in integrated sensor solutions and through-life capability management for defense systems and homeland security applications. It offers surveillance, protection, tracking, targeting, navigation & control and imaging systems.

Various Pakistani media reports quoted Air Marshal Farhat Husain Khan, chairman of the Kamra complex who presided at the launch ceremonies, as saying that the Falco would greatly enhance the air force's operational capability and help make Pakistan one of the few countries with the capability to make a modern tactical drone.

Husain Khan said it took engineers two years to set up the complex in Kamra, Dawn newspaper reported.

The UAV co-production facility is seen as a major step toward Pakistan's long-term goal of self-reliance in the military aviation industry.

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"Falco is an advanced, tactical UAV designed by Selex Galileo Italy ... it would address current and future surveillance and reconnaissance needs of the Pakistan air force," an air force spokesman said, the Daily Times reported.

No precise date was given for the rollout of the Falco, but officials said it would be in the near future.

Initially, the Falco will only be able to provide reconnaissance and surveillance for the air force, as it may be large enough to carry both a missile and a targeting system. But future UAVs may be fitted with systems like laser-guided missiles for offensive purposes with outside help.

Pakistan has been asking for the drone technology from the United States. Missile attacks from suspected U.S. Predator drones have been especially effective in the fight against the Taliban in the tribal regions along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

In one recent incident, a drone attack on Aug. 5 killed Baitullah Mehsud, the notorious leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

Pakistan's argument for seeking the technology is that its people strongly resent their territory being used for missile attacks on the militants by foreign forces from across the border in Afghanistan.

A statement issued after a recent meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke said the drone attacks "have seriously impeded Pakistan's efforts towards rooting out militancy and terrorism from the area."

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But the elimination of Baitullah Mehsud could help change that perception.

A U.S. counter-terrorism expert was quoted as telling Dawn: "With one blow, the Americans have killed Pakistan's greatest enemy in the tribal region," adding, "Even a full-fledged ground attack could not have achieved this target."

Whether the United States would part with its drone technology is not known. However, the Daily Times Thursday quoted U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Sedney as telling a private television channel that "the United States was working hard to provide to Pakistani security forces whatever they need to fight al-Qaida."

But the secretary also rejected any suggestion the United States may be under pressure from India not to give the drone technology to Pakistan, the report said.

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