DefExpo reflected a growing consciousness about the importance of UAVs
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) signed a slew of Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with companies as diverse as Israel Aerospace Industries Limited (IAI), Dynamatic Technologies Limited (DTL), Elbit Systems and New Space Research & Technologies Pvt. Ltd at the DefExpo 2020 that was held in Lucknow.
First off the block was the tripartite MoU between HAL, IAI and DTL. Aimed at marketing, manufacturing and selling of IAI’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to potential Indian customers such as the armed forces, paramilitary and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), the agreement was signed by executive director, corporate planning, HAL, Sanjiv Shukla, executive vice president, marketing, IAI, Eli Alfassi and executive director & global COO hydraulics and homeland security, DTL, Arvind Mishra.
CMD, HAL, R. Madhavan, who was present at the ceremony, said, “The collaboration will provide excellent opportunity to HAL to expand its product offerings to defence customers, absorb critical technologies and strengthen the aerospace ecosystem in the country, especially for UAVs.”
President and CEO, IAI, Nimrod Sheffer, added that India was an important strategic market for UAVs and that he was confident of IAI’s extensive experience and HAL’s technological capabilities. According to him, DTL would lead to significant advancements in the field.
The other MoU was signed with Elbit Systems’ ISTAR Division. Director (Engineering and R&D), HAL, Arup Chatterjee and vice president (business development and marketing), Elbit Systems Roy Zentner inked the agreement in the presence of R. Madhavan. The MoU aims at assessing the feasibility of joint development of a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for maritime and land-based military operations. Though primarily aimed at the domestic requirements, it will eventually look at export possibilities too. The VTOL UAV will be rotary wing in 2,000 kg class.
HAL also signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with the New Space Research & Technologies Pvt. Ltd to explore cooperation for joint development and manufacturing in the area of unmanned systems, swarm technology and space systems. It was signed by general manager (planning) for HAL, D Maiti and Sameer Joshi of New Space Research & Technologies Pvt. Ltd.
Where is India on the UAV Graph?
The first UAV India inducted was Searcher I in 1996 from Israel Aerospace Industries. It was followed by Searcher II and the Heron (MALE) in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Lt Gen. B. S Pawar, in one of his columns for FORCE, has explained what development India has been making towards induction of the UAVs.
He writes, “India has not been left out of the global UAV push, with a major thrust of its armed forces modernisation plans focusing on augmenting their current meagre resources – the Israeli Searcher II, Heron (MALE) and the Israeli Harop armed, self-destruct UAVs. While India’s Nishant tactical UAV project (catapult launch and parachute recovery) for the army has been a failure, due to a faulty design in the recovery phase, India is in the process of developing a UAV in the Heron / Predator class of MALE UAVs, called ‘Rustom’ – a 1100-1300 kg UAV, with a maximum altitude of 35,000 feet and 300 km range. It has three versions, the Rustom1 being the tactical UAV, the Rustom H to replace the Heron in the long run and the Rustom2 the combat version.”
The article states that with the ‘Make in India’ policy, the development of Rustom will be done by an outside agency, L&T, Tatas and HAL-BEL combining as contenders for this project.
India’s most prized indigenous drone programme is the development of the Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft (AURA). With the AURA having accomplished its stated mission of research into future Indian UCAVs, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has embarked on the development of Ghatak, which will be a high-speed stealth UCAV, capable of autonomously seeking, identifying and destroying targets, with missiles, bombs and precision guided munitions.
Reports reveal that this new combat drone will be powered by the indigenous Kaveri derivative engine (dry variant) without the after burner and will feature flying wing design similar to the US ‘B-2 Spirit’, a stealth bomber. As per the DRDO, the project is currently awaiting government approval and this futuristic project is likely to take a decade to fructify, he writes.
Indian armed forces while on the cusp of modernisation are looking for more competitive and up-to-the-global-mark options in UAVs. As per Lt Gen. Pawar’s article, the army is looking to equip its infantry battalion with the micro and mini UAVs. Tata Advanced Systems and Taneja Aerospace are said to be working on these projects.
The Indian Army is seeking Miniature UAVs (MAVs) which can evade enemy radar and are able to carry explosives to act as killer drones for small but high value targets. Cyient Solution & Systems Pvt Ltd (CSS) in a joint venture with Israeli Blue Bird Aero Systems which was signed in April 2018, will be offering SpyLite mini UAVs to the Indian Army. Spylite had put up a tactical surveillance role at high altitude in extreme weather conditions while undergoing field trials.
Other private companies like Axiom Research Labs based in Bangalore, RAN India in Delhi/NCR and Throttle Aerospace Systems in Bangalore are a few other companies who have been developing UAVs for defence. HAL, DRDO, NAL, BEL are the state-owned companies that manufacture UAVs. India will also procure the 30 Sea Guardian (HALE) surveillance drones from the US worth USD4.5 billion.
As per reports, if the two countries seal the deal, India will only be the third country after the UK and Italy and the first non-NATO member to be offered the Sea Guardians by the US government. However, there will not be a technology transfer to India. MQ-9 Reaper drone, built by General Atomics is also a weapon system that India seeks to acquire. MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium altitude and long endurance aircraft.
Why Does India Need State-of-the-art UAVS?
The key functions of the UAVs are intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, aiming and attacking the exact targets and logistic support. UAVs are aircrafts that do not have a human pilot, which ensures reduction of damage to soldiers and aircrafts. As UAVs are smaller than aircrafts and are fitted with sensors, they help in hitting the precise targets. They have also been used in rescue ops and have been deemed useful.
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