Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are increasingly becoming the preferred weapon of choice for the armed forces globally. India too has in the recent months turned its attention to investing in drones for its armed forces.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is soon going to send out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to five start-ups for Swarm Drones. These Swarm Drones have the capability to carry out precision strikes on enemy targets with standoff missiles.
Why are drones critical for the forces?
The armed forces, as well as non state entities have started using them more than ever before. “Their indispensability is not surprising, as they are not very expensive, they have high degree of effectiveness, and provide high degree of deniability,” an expert explains to Financial Express Online.
The Indian Armed forces have been planning to import drones not just for surveillance, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance but also for using them in different operations.
Last year when the Indian and Chinese forces were locked into standoff along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, drones were taken on lease from Israel and the US for intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance.
IAF’s RFP for drones
The IAF is expected to issue the RfP for two sets of Swarm Drones to the five start-ups and these will cost Rs 100 crore. These start-ups have been identified through the Mehar Baba Swarm Drone Competition organized by the IAF in 2018. They made 50 drones over two years during the competition.
They will get help from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Base Repair Depots. These BRDs have already been identified and have the expertise in carrying out overhaul and repairs of the fighter jets as well as other equipment.
Which are the five Start-Ups that will receive the RfP?
Veda Defence Systems Pvt Ltd, Raphe mPhibr Pvt Ltd, Dhaksha Unmanned Systems Pvt Ltd, NewSpace Research and Technologies, and Flaire Unmanned Systems Pvt Ltd.
According to sources, these start-ups will also get all possible help from the IAF in developing and building the complex systems of Swarm Drones.
In the Mehar Baba Swarm drone Competition in 2018, there were 154 applicants from across the country and in the first round only 54 had made the cut and in the second round only 20 were down selected.
As part of the competition they demonstrated 10 drones which had a range of 10-km range and 10 medical drops in Pokhran. Each was reimbursed Rs 25 lakh by the IAF.
And from the 20, the top five which were identified were tasked to demonstrate a 50 km range with 20 drones in different environments.
As reported earlier, the swarm drones in 2019 were deployed to attack two Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia — Abqaiq and Khurais. Chinese designed DJI UAV with explosives strapped on, according to reports sent in for an assassination attempt on the president of Venezuela, which had failed.
How Will Swarm Drone Attack Change Warfare
Because the Swarm Drones are cheap they can be a good asset for the forces and can cause massive damage too. These drones are inspired by swarms of insects and can be useful for a wide range role both on and off the battlefield.
These Swarm Drones are operated through a human controller. However, “with new technologies, Artificial Intelligence and machine learning algorithms, the human element in the loop will not be required any more. This means that these drones will have the capability to decide among themselves,” the expert added.
The Indian Scenario
Amidst the evolving situation in Afghanistan and its spillover in the neighbourhood, for India the biggest concern is Pakistan, which has the expertise of battlefield innovation and adaptation. They have been using these drones to carry out attacks on the Indian army establishments in the recent months.
How to counter Swarm Drone Tactics
“These Swarm Drones operate in a group. They are smart; they do not get into each other’s way and are expected to be cheap and disposable. They need a long flight range otherwise they could easily be destroyed before they get to launch their payloads,” says Debajit Sarkar, expert on competitive intelligence and market research in the aerospace and defence industry
Indian Army to get tactical kamikaze drones from Israel
Recently, the Indian army has ordered 100 Tactical Kamikaze Drones which were used in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict. And will be deployed along the borders with Pakistan and China.
The contract inked last month is expected to complete delivery of 100 drones in 12 months.
To be manufactured in Bengaluru under a joint venture between Israel’s Elbit System and India’s Alpha Design of Adani Group, the loitering munition ‘SkyStriker’ can carry a warhead of 5-10 kgs and is a force enabler. These are cheaper and can be used in tactical operations.
The SkyStriker can also be used as a standalone system and also as a swarm.