All the three services of the Indian Armed Forces are moving ahead speedily for the acquisition of Drones and Anti-Drone technologies, mostly indigenous systems that are developed by Indian companies
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
News reports of September 2 have revealed that the Armed Forces have begun awarding contracts to defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) as well as private firms to prepare for drone warfare with China and Pakistan plus terrorists armed with drones. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen recently told BBC, "As Muslims, we also have a right to raise our voice for Muslims in Kashmir, India or any other country. "Pakistan has already shifted anti-India terrorist training camps to Afghanistan. In addition, the Pakistan-Turkey radical nexus will enable China and Turkey to equip Pakistan and Pakistani proxies with drones.
Orders placed on Indian companies have a multiplier effect on the Indian MSME eco-system since products like drones and anti-drone systems have a very high export potential to friendly foreign countries
At the International Defence Industry Fair 'IDEF 2021' held in Istanbul (August 17-20), Pakistan's National Engineering and Science Commission (NESCOM) signed a deal with Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) to manufacture components for medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) combat drone, Anka. With endurance of over 24 hours and 250 kg payload of sensors or weapons like air-to-surface missiles, Anka is currently in use by Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), Gendarmerie General Command (Turkish law enforcement agency) and National Intelligence Organisation (MIT). Pakistan's Navy was also negotiating to buy a variant of Anka, according to reports in 2018.
In January 2021, the Indian Army (IA) had signed a $20-million (approximately 140 crores) contract with ideaForge Technology Private Limited for procuring undisclosed quantities of a high altitude variant of SWITCH unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV), an indigenous system used for surveillance operations.
On July 31, 2021, the Indian Navy (IN) signed a contract with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) for the first indigenous Naval Anti-Drone System (NADS). According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), multiple units of BEL in Bangaluru, Hyderabad, Pune and Machilipatanam were involved in the making of this fully indigenous system. NADS was developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and manufactured by BEL.
Concurrently, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has awarded three contracts. First one is 240-crore contract to BEL for manufacturing a counter anti-drone system with 'hard kill' capability; hard kill capability implies destroying an incoming hostile object with a direct hit. The technology for this product has been developed by DRDO. After the transfer of technology (ToT), BEL is the actual manufacturer.
On July 30, India and the US signed an agreement for working on an air-launched drone under the bilateral arrangement for defence trade and technology
IAF's second contract for 155 crores was awarded to the Hyderabad-based Zen Technologies for a Counter Anti-Drone System (CUAS) that uses a method to counter any hostile object through means other than a 'hard kill'. Like BEL, the Zen product has a very high percentage of indigenous content. According to an industry source, "The offer from Zen Technologies is a completely India designed, developed and manufactured CUAS, with a very high percentage of indigenous content, against stiff competition from many foreign players."
The third contract by IAF was awarded to indigenous firm Gurutvaa Systems worth 8 crores for supply of drone jammer guns. Interestingly, the government announced the new 'Drone Rules 2021' on August 26 enabling ease of doing business for the nascent domestic drone companies.
On August 31, 2021, the Indian Army (IA) ordered over 100 tactical 'SkyStriker' loitering munition from Bengaluru-based Alpha Design Technologies Private Limited having joint venture with Israel's Elbit Systems Limited. Alpha Design Technologies, now part of the Adani Group, is already producing SkyStriker munitions and will meet IA's requirements within one year. SkyStriker, launched through an automatic pneumatic launch platform, can reach a distance of 20 km in less than 10 minutes. The total range for the system is around 100 km. Designed for long-range precision strike, SkyStriker can pursue a target for up to two hours with a 5-kg warhead or up to one hour with a 10-kg warhead at maximum speed of 100 knots.
Concurrently, the IA has ordered 100 units of 'swarm drones' from the start-up Newspace Research and Technologies Private Limited costing $15 million. The IA intends to use these drones for developing swarming concept of operations and to help design future swarming systems.
The drone and counter-drone sectors are expected to grow exponentially in the next few years
Above orders placed on Indian companies have a multiplier effect on the Indian MSME eco-system since products like drones and anti-drone systems have a very high export potential to friendly foreign countries. This will contribute towards achieving the target set for exports worth $5 billion by the year 2025.
In an associated development on July 30, India and the US signed an agreement for working on an air-launched drone under the bilateral arrangement for defence trade and technology. A statement issued by the MoD said that the Project Agreement will enable the two nations to work on development of the Air-Launched Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (ALUAV) under the Joint Working Group on Air Systems of the bilateral Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), adding, "The agreement is a significant step towards deepening defence technology collaboration between the two nations through co-development of defence equipment."
The Project Agreement outlines the collaboration between Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) of the IAF and the DRDO towards design, development, demonstration, testing and evaluation of systems to co-develop an ALUAV prototype. The Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) at DRDO and the Aerospace Systems Directorate at the AFRL, along with the IAF and US Air Force, are the principal organisations for execution of the Project Agreement.
The time schedule for joint development of the India-US ALUAV has not been spelt out but the IAF will naturally aim for its development and production in the earliest possible timeframe. The drone and counter-drone sectors are expected to grow exponentially in the next few years, both for civilian and defence use, and there are already signs of a boost in the market. Finally, due to reasons mentioned above, the procurement of drones and counter-drone systems by our Armed Forces must be expedited fastest.