Force Multipliers

The demand for UAVs is on the rise in the Indian armed forces

Aditya Kakkar

The armed forces have identified the need for Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and Systems in the ministry of defence’s ‘Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap-2018’ to provide the industry with an overview of the country’s offensive and defensive military requirements. It provides to the industry an overview of equipment that is envisaged to be inducted into the armed forces up to the late 2020s. UAVs are major force multipliers in modern-day warfare for real-time surveillance as well as hitting high-value enemy targets. The armed forces currently have over 200 drones with the bulk of them imported from Israel.

Rustom 2 MALE UAV

The army and navy need 100-150 Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) RPA with an expected lifecycle of 15-20 years which should be capable of undertaking the task of search and reconnaissance of area as well as moving targets, artillery adjustment, urban security, combat SAR, coastal and maritime patrol, disaster control and protection of facilities. It should be able to operate around 30,000 feet or above while its endurance should be more than 24 hrs with SAR and EO/IR payloads. The maximum range should be more than 250 Km in LOS mode and payloads to include maritime radar, ESM, ELINT, ECCM, COMINT, EO/IR, and SATCOM link.

The document also lays out the navy’s requirement of High-Altitude long-range RPAs (more than 20), vertical take-off and landing RPAs (25-30), and ship-borne (more than 50 systems, with each system having 3 RPAs). The navy also needs 10 submarine launched RPAs. The Indian army on the other hand needs 50 short range RPA, 30 hybrid RPAs, and 55-70 stealth RPAs. The army and navy have also jointly demanded more than 30 combat RPAs.

In March 2018, global market intelligence and advisory firm BIS Research concluded that India is one of the fastest-growing markets for UAVs and one of the top UAV importers for military purposes worldwide. “For India, we project consistent growth in both military and commercial applications, great market potential, and growing adoption. The market for commercial end-users in India will supersede the military market in the country by 2021, and the cumulative market in India will hit USD 885.7 million by 2021,” said Lead Analyst, BIS Research, Rahul Papney. Indian companies such as AUS, IdeaForge, and Quidich are either already manufacturing or operating UAVs for customers, the report noted.

For its more immediate requirement, the defence ministry also conducted a vendor’s interaction on the RFI for Short Range Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) on 18 January 2018. As per the RFI, the RPAS are proposed to be developed and manufactured by the Indian industry under an appropriate category of the DPP and the project would be based on proven or matured technologies where fundamental research is not required.

The Short Range RPAS is intended to be used for aerial surveillance over a large area by day and night for a sustained period while the broad operational parameters are: ceiling altitude (20,000 feet above mean sea level), operational altitude (15,000 feet AMSL), range (200 kms with a single RPAS), endurance (minimum 10 hours). In terms of payload, it should be able to carry electro optical and infrared (IR) with laser designator payload, electronic intelligence payload, communication payload, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payload, maritime patrol radar (MPR) payload, radio relay, identification of friend or foe (IFF), traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS). The service life should be a minimum of 20 years and approximately 60 such systems are needed.

In February 2018, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) also successfully completed the test flight of its Rustom 2 drone at the Aeronautical Test Range. The Rustom 2 is part of the Rustom line of UAVs that includes Rustom-I, Rustom-H and Rustom-C. The drone was developed for use by all three services of the Indian armed forces, primarily for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations. The MALE UAV can fly at over 22,000 ft and has an approximate flight time of 20 hours. It has been modelled on the Rustom-H UCAV with a light airframe and is propelled by two 3-bladed NPO Saturn engines. It can fly at around 280 km/hr and its MREO and LREO sensors are placed inside a modular payload under the nose for capturing imagery and video. The drone’s data link developed by Defence Electronics Application Laboratory transmits the ISR data to the armed forces’ ground control station in real time.

Other indigenous UAVs and drones that India possesses include Netra, Nishant, Panchi, Rustom I, Rustom II, Aura and Lakshya. Netra was developed jointly by DRDO and ideaForge and is currently used by the CAPFs and the Indian armed forces. Similar to a helicopter, it can take off and land vertically. It was used extensively by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) during the 2013 North Indian floods. Nishant can be used during night as well and is primarily used for target tracking and damage assessment. Panchi is the wheeled version of Nishant and is capable of using small airstrips for take-off and landing.

While the DRDO is developing indigenous capabilities, the focus of the armed forces remains fixed on quick acquisition of imported battle-tested UAVs. According to a report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released in March 2018, almost half of Israeli weapons (49 per cent) exported over the past five years have gone to India. The emphasis on arms sales between the two countries included the Heron TP UAV as well. The report also said that Israel provided India with loitering munitions (known as a suicide drone).

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