SOURCE: GIRISH LINGANNA / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG.
Every military expert agrees that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are the future of combat. Knowing the most prevalent types of drones and which ones India has deployed is essential.
Three Decades in Operation: A Brief History of UAVs in India
For almost a decade, the Indian Armed Forces have used UAVs. The Indian Army acquired unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel in the late 1990s, and the Indian Air Force and Navy followed suit.
Initially, DRDO was charged with creating a catapult-launched UAV, which its Aeronautical Development Establishment, Bangalore, built and improved to satisfy customer specifications. IAI Malat, whose UAVs were in service with several armies, supplied the Indian Armed Forces with most of its UAVs.
The Indian Army first got the Searcher Mark I, then the Searcher Mark II, which had a maximum operating height of 15,000 feet, and ultimately the Heron, which had a maximum operating altitude of 30,000 feet. The Indian Air Force received the Searcher Mark I, followed by the Searcher Mark II, and the Heron unmanned aerial vehicles before the Indian Army.
The Indian Navy also bought Heron UAVs, which met its needs for long-range off-shore operations.
According to unconfirmed rumours, the Indian Air Force acquired the Harop in 2019, similar to a UCAV. Since 2006, successive IAF Chiefs of Staff have stressed this capability, and the IAF expects to have both UAV and UCAV squadrons utterly operational by 2017.
Notably, Harop made its debut in 2009 at Aero India. This hunter-killer drone, manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), does not carry armaments like U.S. UCAVs but resembles a flying missile exploding on a pre-programmed target. This missile drone can hover over a battlefield and attack high-value targets, including Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) operations.
Defence UAVs of India
The purpose of a UAV is determined by its payload. The payload is closely linked to the task. Charged Couple Device (CCD) cameras with Multi Optronic Software (MOS) payload would be necessary for surveillance missions. The UAV would be outfitted with a Laser designator for missions using lasers, enabling aircraft to conduct more accurate attacks.
Similarly, a UAV would be equipped with an ELINT payload for ELINT missions and sufficient explosives for hunter-killer operations. It could launch or crash into a designated target in an attack and self-destruct mode.
For an offensive mission, the payload would consist of the guidance system and two missiles with the proper equipment.
Micro and Nano Drones
For several years, insect-sized surveillance robots have hovered over actual battlefields. The Indian Army is scouting for a Micro Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (Micro RPAS). Mini Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). The tender is on, and the results are not there yet.
Small Tactical Drones
The Indian Army already uses Mini Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems of unknown make but made in India. Mini RPAS eliminates the tactical operating limits imposed by Indian Air Force aircraft and heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
The Indian Army has also acquired Swarm Drones from two Indian startups. These drones are estimated to be in the small tactical drone category. The Indian Army has also launched a Make-II case for the Autonomous Surveillance and Armed Drone Swarm (A-SADS), which includes several enhancements, including a High Altitude Area variant.
Medium-sized Reconnaissance Drones
Most military drones, or “work horses”, are medium-sized, medium-range flying UAVs used for ISTAR missions. These drones, like bigger surveillance drones, are sometimes referred to as MALE or HALE drones, abbreviations for Medium Altitude Long Endurance and High Altitude Long Endurance.
India has been using Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI)-manufactured Heron, one of the most critical drones in this category worldwide. This drone, which weighs over 1,000 kilograms and has a wingspan of over 16 metres, can fly for up to 52 hours at 10,000 metres (35,000 feet) – almost the same altitude as an aeroplane.
Currently, India possesses more than 200 Israeli-made Searcher and Heron UAVs. The Indian defence ministry authorised the purchase of 54 Israeli Harop drones in February 2019 to strengthen its unmanned combat capabilities. Approximately 110 Harop drones are already in service with the Indian Air Force (IAF).
DRDO has created the Rustom I & II MALE UAVs for survival and strike. Rustom-2, also known as Tapas-BH (Tactical Airborne Platform for Aerial Surveillance-Beyond Horizon 201), completed its last flight test in October 2020, flying at 16,000 feet for eight hours. It recently flew at an altitude of 25,000 feet and an endurance of 10 hours. 76 Tapas drones have been ordered – sixty for the Indian Army, twelve for the Indian Air force, and four for the Indian Navy. The first delivery is scheduled for 2023. This is a collaboration between HAL and DRDO. TAPAS BH-201 UCAV must reach 30,000 feet, which it has almost accomplished, and has shown an endurance (hours spent in the sky) of over 16 hours.
The Indian Navy has leased two MQ-9B sea Guardian UAVs from the United States and is currently buying 30 units.
Large Combat and Surveillance Drones
India has no plans for this category of drones except for the DRDO Ghatak project. Ghatak is an unmanned, jet-propelled, stealthy combat aircraft (UCAV).
Future of UAVs in India’s Military Strategy
India has sufficiently understood the importance of drones. To this effect, India has been gearing up for a massive boost to the indigenous industry under its various programmes. Specifically, under iDEX, India is looking to develop world-class drones that plug specific long-haul operational requirements. Further, India’s indigenisation path has started to build critical subsystems locally. Kaveri’s famed engine programme is bound to help develop powerful UAVs for India. Thanks in part to its space programme, India’s software and sensor prowess will be coupled with its growing industry to produce a global drone powerhouse.
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