India's Current & Future UAVs & UCAVs

Dessert Storm

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Just a thought:
Learnings from Ghatak UCAV and AMCA MK2 plus (if) collaboration on 6th Gen Fighter with any of the two European programs = Easier path to B2 type Bomber/DEW platform.
* I lean towards Tempest.
 

Trololo

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When will Rustom 2 be finally inducted?
After it completes hot weather trials, cold weather trials, summer trials, winter trials, autumn trials, monsoon trials, mountain trials, subterranean trials, space trials, beach trials, railway trials, hot air balloon trials, dog and cat safety trials, pedestrian safety trials, euro-cap trials, etc.
 

WolfPack86

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First Images Of The Indian Ghatak Stealth UCAV Surface In An Academic Video
Images of a scale model of the Indian Air Force Ghatak UCAV (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) surfaced for the first time in a recent video of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT-Kanpur). The UAV design lecture was posted on the institute’s YouTube channel on September 28 and the model, which is reportedly the first to feature also a landing gear, was seen in the background in the laboratory where the lecture was recorded.

As first reported by Livefist, this could be either a mockup or a sub-scale flying model of the SWiFT (Stealth Wing Flying Testbed), the technology demonstrator designed and built in collaboration with the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) to prove technologies for the Ghatak. A prototype SWiFT will be fitted with a Russian NPO Saturn 36MT turbofan engine, which currently powers the Indian Nirbhay cruise missile. Another similar but smaller model was also visible in the video.

The Ghatak project, which in Hindi means “dangerous”/”deadly”, began as Project AURA (autonomous unmanned research aircraft) and was first acknowledged in 2010, directed by a team which reported directly to the Prime Minister. The program, worth at least 8M USD until now, is focusing on the development of the drone entirely in India, with technology transfers from abroad reduced to the bare minimum.


Ghatak, which will be approximately eight times bigger than SWiFT, is being developed as a stealth bomber aircraft to both attack ground targets with precision weapons and perform ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions. The SWiFT prototype is reportedly scheduled to fly for the first time next year, while Ghatak won’t be flying before 202-2025.

Other than IIT Kanpur, which is studying the autonomous flight of a low RCS (Radar Cross Section) aircraft with a ducted fan engine and performing wind tunnel testing to finetune the UCAV’s shape, IIT Bombay collaborated with the design and testing of the serpentine air intake duct (also known as S-duct inlet) for the engine.

The final Ghatak configuration will be powered by the Indian-made Kaveri engine, designed for the LCA Tejas, in a non-afterburning variant. The engine didn’t meet the expected power outputs, however the French aerospace companies Dassault and Safran are reportedly collaborating to help fix the engine and refine the aircraft design as part of the technology transfers that are included with the Indian deal for the Rafale. According to Livefist, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems,and MiG Corp also offered assistance for the Ghatak program.

The Ghatak UCAV is being kept strictly under cover and there are not much technical details available. The UCAV is being described as capable of flying at high speed, which some sources claims could be Mach 1.2, at an altitude of 30,000 ft with a range of more than 300 km. The range seems somewhat too short for that speed and altitude, but considering the “more than” it could simply be a way to not disclose the real expected range.

The MTOW (Maximum Take-Off Weight) is reported at about 15000 kg, of which 2000 kg will be the weapons payload. The aircraft will reportedly be equipped with an EO/IR sensor (Electro-Optical/Infra-Red) and an AESA radar (Active Electronically Scanned Array), accompanied by an extensive electronic warfare suite.
 

itsAurea

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These are beautiful but I don't want to get into war again. It does get frustrating that international media focuses on the wrong parts of India. As a result, most people still think India can't compete with First-World wealth and technology.
 

Tridev123

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Amid tensions along the LAC with China, reports say India has requested for six MQ-9 drones from the US at the cost of $600 million.
Anybody can elaborate on the deployment strategy for the 100 million US dollars (appx) drone against the Chinese How do we propose to ensure that they are not shot down at the border. Deploying them deep behind the border does not make sense for an armed drone. That role can be done by our existing manned aircraft using stand off munitions.

There is a big question mark on the utility of armed drones during an war as they will be very vulnerable. Unless they can survive in a well defended enemy airspace they do not make sense. A flying wing UCAV like the Aura is in a different class.

Even against Pakistan they will be vulnerable.

Will the drone be almost invisible to enemy radars?. If they cannot be picked up by enemy radars then maybe it makes sense.
 

Neil

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Raising a swarm


The armed forces, behind the curve on weaponised drones, are rushing to fill the gap through imports. The tougher ask, though, is to develop an indigenous ecosystem for these must-have platforms.


ndia’s military standoff with China in Ladakh, now in its sixth month, has resulted in an increased focus on equipping the armed forces. One piece of hardware has topped the acquisition wishlist of all three branches of the armed forces, drones. The urgency with which these weapons systems are now being acquired, via fast-track purchases and deliveries in months, not years, speaks of the growing importance being attached to these force multipliers.

The army is looking for man-portable surveillance drones that can operate at the rarefied altitudes of its northern theatre. It also wants bigger, armed drones that can target terrorist camps across the Pakistani border with precision missiles. The navy hopes to close a fast-track contract to acquire 10 UASes (unmanned aerial systems) that can operate off its warships, before the end of the financial year. The three services will get their first weaponised drones in an off-the-shelf purchase of six MQ-9B Sky Guardians from the United States. The deal is worth over Rs 4,000 crore, with an option to buy 18 more over the next few years. The contract closest to being signed, however, is the Rs 5,500 crore Project Cheetah, to upgrade the ‘Heron’ medium-altitude long-endurance drone fleet with all three services. The defence ministry has finished price negotiations with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for the upgrade, this will convert the fleet of primarily ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) drones, acquired over a decade ago, into weapons platforms. The project, which will equip them with satellite navigation, air-to-ground missiles and precision weapons, is awaiting sanction from the cabinet committee on security (see Drones on the Horizon). These proposals will see the armed forces collectively spending close to Rs 36,000 crore ($5 billion) over the next few years.



Drones, both armed and unarmed, have been a feature of major wars in Asia and Africa in recent years, from ISIS in Syria rigging small drones to drop grenades to the ongoing civil war in Libya, where both sides have been using combat drones. Drone technology has also seen a steady increase in sophistication and effectiveness. The attack on Saudi Aramco oil refineries on September 14, 2019, attributed to Houthi rebels in Yemen, showed both their lethality and the ease with which even non-state actors can make use of them. The ongoing war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the first armed conflict between two countries in over a decade, has demonstrated the devastating potential of drones in uncontested airspace. Azerbaijan’s fleet of Turkish-built armed UASes have pulverised tanks, trucks and fortifications. Armed drones, clearly, are the force multipliers of today, not of some distant battlefield of tomorrow.

In India, along the tense frontiers of the subcontinent, both Pakistan and China are using drones with increased frequency. Over the past 13 months, security forces in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir have intercepted five drone ‘mules’, operated by Pakistan’s ISI (Inter Services Intelligence), ferrying weapons and ammunition to Khalistani and Kashmiri terrorists. The Chinese PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has an array of tactical surveillance drones for snooping on Indian positions in Ladakh. Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces routinely publish propaganda videos of their new unmanned helicopter drones, optimised for high-altitude operations, performing mundane tasks, such as delivering hot food to troops.

The Indian armed forces’ drone acquisitions have been long in the pipeline. With indigenous programmes slow to materialise, foreign firms have captured India’s market for these weapons platforms. Even so, progress has been slow. Project Cheetah was approved by the defence acquisition council (DAC) nearly a decade ago, in 2011. And in 2015, the navy had put out a request for information (the first step in an acquisition) for naval shipborne UASes. These are urgently required, especially for non-combat missions. Platforms like the MQ-9B Guardian will allow the armed forces to reduce running costs on tasks like distant maritime surveillance and patrolling the land borders. “The MQ-9B is satellite-steered, can float above the target at 45,000 feet and stay on task for 35 hours, using radar and electronic support measures to locate the enemy. It [can be used] anywhere, the Gulf of Aden or the Malacca Straits or in Ladakh,” a senior defence official says. Each one costs close to Rs 900 crore, the reason at least one of the three services is believed to have had second thoughts on acquiring them. But these off-the-shelf imports, with zero transfer of technology, come with other costs. They ensure continued import dependency on Israel, and now, the United States.

It is in the category of HALE and MALE (high-altitude and medium-altitude long-endurance) UASes that the voids are most glaring (see Handheld to High Altitude). There are currently no indigenously designed or built short- or medium-range surveillance drones in the Indian armed forces’ inventory. The DRDO’s (Defence Research and Development Organisation’s) Rustom 1 has no orders. The Rustom 2, meant to be an alternative to the Israeli MALE Heron, is still in development. The platform has had two successful flights this year and the DRDO is hopeful of a breakthrough by next year.



India’s fledgling group of drone developers can only watch these developments with dismay. As one developer says, India’s R&D spending on drone technologies is not even equal to the annual maintenance costs of the fleet of imported systems. For the armed forces, indigenous drones hold out not only the potential of becoming force multipliers, but with budgetary cuts, as a low-cost solution to meet operational requirements. “Military aviation comes at a huge cost, the navy, the Cinderella service (its 15 per cent share is the smallest of the defence budget), has to be extremely thrifty. Unmanned surveillance gives us a huge tactical advantage on the seas, which satellite and aircraft-based surveillance don’t give us,” says Rear Admiral Sudhir Pillai, former Flag Officer Naval Aviation. While there are domestic joint ventures to build such platforms, for instance, Adani Defence has teamed up with Israel’s Elbit to build drones within the country, these will not be indigenously designed or developed. “We are drone assemblers, not UAS developers,” says a private sector drone maker.

The DRDO has been slow to meet the requirements of the armed forces. It has succeeded in fielding pilotless target aircraft like the Lakshya but products like the Nishant short-ranged surveillance drone have had a tardy record with the services.

The DRDO has had more success in developing mini and micro UAVs. It says it has transferred dronetechnology to industry partners for various systems and established them as aerospace industries for supplying sub systems and components. In 2010, the DRDO and the Department of Science and Technology funded the National Programme for Micro Air Vehicles (NP-MICAV) to promote R&D in mini and micro UAVs. The organisation says it has left the development of these small UAVs to industries and academia while it focuses on MALE, HALE and weaponised UAVS.



A 2019 FICCI and EY report projects the Indian civilian UAS market to touch $885.7 million (Rs 6,500 crore) by 2021 on the back of their utility in infrastructure, photography and agriculture. There are no estimates for the military and security forces, but this would be larger. The lack of a long-term acquisition plan or a roadmap, a version of the integrated guided missile development programme for drones, means there is virtually no indigenous ecosystem for UASes. Worse, all the major components for lightweight drones, the auto-pilot or the brain of the machine, the battery pack, the motherboard and the propellers and motors, are imported, the majority from the world leader in drones, China.

“There is a need for an integrated development program, but before that it is essential to identify their role and how they fit into future war fighting tactics,” says Lt General D.S. Hooda, former Northern Army Commander. “Right now we are buying what is available rather than what could be needed, for example, the Guardian. Initially it was proposed for the Navy and then all three services wanted it. We need to procure based on the operational requirements.” Future war is based on electronics, software and sensors. The combat drone, developers say, is all of that. “Why just drones, the technology that would be developed can be used in a range of situations, from unmanned ground vehicles to naval applications,” says a drone developer, who requested anonymity.

There is exactly one project which currently holds out a glimmer of hope for futuristic military projects, the Mehar Baba Swarm Drone Competition, an IAF-funded project for creating swarm drones. The winner of the contest to build a fleet of 50 drones to deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief will bag a Rs 100 crore IAF contract.

But such projects, which bring in the brightest in Indian industry, are few and far between. The question, as always, is who will fund these projects. “Our systems are process-oriented and not goal-oriented,” says Sameer Joshi, a former IAF fighter pilot who is part of a team of developers who are in the contest for the project. Developers point to Turkey, which has built up an ecosystem over the past 15 years and is now a world leader in armed drones. Turkish armed drones have tipped the scales in virtually every recent conflict in its extended neighbourhood, from Syria and Libya to Nagorno Karabakh. It might only be a matter of time before drones appear in our neighbourhood too, as a wake-up call.


That remotely piloted aircraft systems are here to stay is a given. They could potentially have the same impact on warfare that digital networks and precision-guided weapons, unveiled during the Gulf War of 1991, did. Inexpensive, mass-produced drones under development in defence labs across the world can swarm against, and cripple, expensive military hardware like fighter jets and surface-to-air missile batteries.

A 2020 study prepared by US think-tank RAND predicts that low-cost ‘meshed’ UASes will greatly reduce the number of weapons required to destroy targets. For instance, to thwart a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, it estimates that 10,000 Harpoon class weapons (an anti-ship missile) would be required to destroy 72 per cent of an invading flotilla’s ‘tank equivalent’ capacity carried by landing craft. A targeting mesh of 600 or more cheap, mass-produced UAS weapons can destroy upwards of 80 per cent of the same flotilla.


 

WolfPack86

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India can now get long-range armed drones from the US but cost will be a factor

The combination of two foundational pacts inked with the US, COMCASA in 2018 and BECA on Tuesday, has paved the way for India to acquire armed drones like Reapers or Predators for long-range precision strikes against hostile targets on land and sea. The Indian armed forces have been pushing for the acquisition of 30 ‘hunter-killer’ weaponized Sea Guardian or MQ-9 Reaper drones, which would cost around $3 billion, with fast-track procurement of six of them amidst the ongoing military confrontation with China, as was first reported by TOI. “With the legal technology enabling pacts in place with the US, procedural hurdles for acquisition of these high-altitude, long endurance armed drones have been cleared. The question now is of money, which is being examined,” said an official. The Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) allows India access to advanced military platforms with encrypted and secure communications and data links like the armed drones. The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), in turn, provides for real-time exchange of geospatial intelligence through advanced satellite imagery, topographical and aeronautical digital data for long-range navigation and pinpointed strikes against enemy targets. Defence minister Rajnath Singh, on his part, described the signing of BECA, after the military logistics pact LEMOA in 2016 and COMCASA in 2018, as “a significant achievement” on Tuesday. Apart from the proposed acquisition of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), which are controlled by satellite links to bomb targets far away, India is also set to work with the US in developing small-sized “drone swarms” that can overwhelm and destroy an enemy’s air defence systems. “India and US have identified priority near-term projects for joint development, which need to be fast-tracked under the defence technology and trade initiative (DTTI),” said Singh. The “short-term” projects under DTTI include the air-launched small aerial systems or drone swarms, light-weight small arms technology and ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance) systems. A long-term one is anti-drone technology called “counter-UAS rocket, artillery and mortar systems”. The two countries on Tuesday also decided to further crank up their already expansive defence cooperation, military interoperability and intelligence-exchange through the maritime information sharing technical arrangement (MISTA). In addition to increasing the scale and complexity of bilateral combat exercises, the Indian armed forces will now enhance ties with the US Central Command and Africa Command, in addition to the Indo-Pacific Command that covers India, to “promote shared security interests”. There will also be regular interaction between the Special Forces of the two countries. “We also explored probable capacity building and other joint cooperation activities in third countries, including our neighbourhood and beyond. We have convergence of views on a number of such proposals and will take those forward,” said Singh. The two sides also shared assessment of the security situation across the Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s expansionist and aggressive behavior. “We reaffirmed our commitment to peace, stability and prosperity of all countries in this region,” he said. “We also agreed that upholding the rules-based international order, respecting the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the international seas and upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states are essential,” he added.
 

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