Future is Unmanned

Indian armed forces plan to induct 5,000 UAVs in next 10 years

Mihir Paul

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have evolved from being primarily a surveillance and reconnaissance asset to hunter-killer roles. Over the years, UAVs have undergone a huge role expansion in employment with missiles

DRDO’s Rustom 2 UCAV during a flight test

being loaded on them to term them as Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV). These can be used for targeting surface targets as also underwater submarines.

UAVs are great force multipliers, and there must be synergy between the three services to optimise their employment. They could be employed for multifarious tasks fruitfully. Presently, the Indian armed forces have limited numbers of these aerial vehicles and each service is looking towards its individual requirement. In as much as the army is concerned, the Herons are performing exceedingly well in surveillance missions in high altitude regions as also providing critical information to manoeuvre elements in our Southern deserts.


India’s UAV History

India’s first acquisitions were the Israeli Searcher Mark 1 in 1998. It had its limitations in terms of altitude ceilings, endurance, duration it can be airborne, and weight it could carry.

India’s armed forces have been operating UAVs for over 18 years. The Indian Army were the pioneers followed by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and subsequently the Indian Navy. At the outset, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was tasked to produce a Catapult launched UAV which was developed by Aeronautical Developmental Establishment (ADE) Bengaluru and improved to meet user requirements. Most of the UAVs of the Indian armed forces were procured from IAI Malat, whose UAVs were in service with numerous countries.

The Indian Army initially obtained the Searcher Mark I, followed by the Searcher Mark II which could operate at an altitude ceiling of 15,000 ft and finally acquired the Heron which could operate at an altitude ceiling of 30,000ft.

The IAF immediately followed the army and acquired the Searcher Mark I followed by Searcher Mark II and acquired the Heron UAV prior to the Indian Army. The Indian Navy also acquired the Heron UAV which suited its long range off-shore requirement. Reports indicate that the IAF has lately acquired the Harop which is a UCAV.

Current Status of UAVs in India

Currently, the Indian armed forces have some 200+ Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Searcher and Heron UAVs of Israeli origin and a few HAROP UAVs recently inducted by the IAF.

Searcher, the smaller of the two is limited both in payload capacity (150 lbs) as well as operational ceiling of (20,000ft). However, with its abilities to stay aloft for up to 18 hours and carry a variety of sensors, it has rendered yeoman’s service along the Western borders and Indian shores. Heron, the larger of the two MALE UAVs is more versatile. With a take-off weight of 1,150 kg, it can carry a 250 kg payload of sensors, stay aloft up to 52 hours (depending on the chosen flight profile) and with operating ceiling of 32,000 ft, it has proven to be an extremely useful surveillance tool along the mountainous Northern borders.

The IAF is currently equipped with Searcher Mark II, Herons and in the process of inducting the UCAV Harop. The tasks visualised are Surveillance and destruction of selected targets by loitering missiles and PSDA. Searcher Mark II and Heron are similar to the systems held by the Indian Army while Harop is a loitering missile capable of seeking targets and destroying them with pin-point accuracy. Harop is also described as a self-destructive Killer-drone. Harop can be used in high density conflict and counter insurgency with 1000 km range and six hours endurance. It can be launched against land-based and sea-based targets. The drone loiters over the target area and attacks the targets, over which it undergoes self-destruction. The UCAV detects strong pulses from targets such as missiles, radars and hits at the source. It is possible to launch the Harop from ground, sea and air.

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