An Indian Navy Heron UAV, made by Israel Aerospace Industries. (Sam Panthaky / AFP)
NEW DELHI — India plans to spend more than US $2 billion in the next five years to boost its UAV fleet, including mini UAVs, and sharpen its border surveillance, intelligence and communications capabilities.
More than a dozen domestic private-sector players are eyeing the mini-UAV market, while the Defence Research and Development Organisation concentrates on developing high-altitude, long-endurance; vertical takeoff; medium-altitude, long-endurance; and combat UAVs.
The Army this month floated a tender to acquire 49 UAVs to be used for real-time intelligence and surveillance, to detect human or vehicular movement, target recognition and identification, and electronic intelligence and communication intelligence.
The tender has been sent to private Indian companies Idea Forge, Dynamatrics, Hi-tech Robotics, Ufcon, Omnipresent Technologies, Datapattern, Tata Advance Systems and state-owned Bharat Electronics.
The mini UAVs will be used for counterinsurgency operations in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, bordering Pakistan. The UAV will have an endurance of 30 to 90 minutes carrying a camera, and be able to perform auto tracking of targets.
The mini UAVs will gather intelligence and carry out reconnaissance along the Line of Control with Pakistan and the India-China border, an Indian Army official said. Mini UAVs are effective electronic eyes in the skies against border infiltrations, which have increased recently, the official added.
The Army is employing UAVs as a communication constellation and has put them to use in rescue operations, as observation posts and for medical evacuation, said Mahindra Singh, a retired Army major general.
The Army and Air Force have an immediate requirement for more than 700 mini UAVs.
The drones need to have endurance of 90 minutes with a loiter time of one hour. The vehicle needs to be able to reach an altitude of 2,000 feet carrying its camera.
The mini UAV should have a mission range of at least 10 kilometers.
In addition, the drones would have jam-resistant uplink and secured downlink, and the system should be easily transportable in one light vehicle and carrier in dismantled configuration in backpacks.
The Army plans to have about 1,600 mini UAVs by 2017 for use by the infantry and mechanized infantry, the Army official said, adding that these vehicles would be employed to enhance the Army’s situational awareness in the border regions.
The mini UAVs will be integrated into a system that will include assets such as artillery, locating radar, bigger UAVs, aerostat radars, and airborne early warning and control aircraft, which could be used as a force-multiplier, the official said.
“The Indian Army needs to have a variety of UAVs, especially [combat UAVs] equipped with missiles which could be effectively used against insurgent hideouts. The Indian Army is spending most of its time fighting these insurgents in what is called low-intensity warfare, leaving little time for preparing for a major future battle,” Singh said.