Boeing ScanEagle and Orbiter front runners for mini UAV
Armed Forces looking for 100 Predators
New Delhi: As Indian armed forces get tasked to new roles and expand their foot-print, the role of pin-point intelligence, has led to a projection of having some 5000 unmanned aerial platforms – both armed and unarmed – over the next one decade.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has finalised a blueprint to procure more than 5,000 UAVs over the next 10 years. These will include high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) UAVs, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAVs, medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAVs and mini UAV’s.
The armed forces are looking for 100 of the Predator drones – both the armed version and for surveillance --- manufactured by General Atomics. It will increase India’s maritime surveillance capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region. It can also keep a hawk's eye on the long porous border with Pakistan and relay-live any attempts at incursions in the Northeast by the Chinese PLA.
The drone can fly for 24 hours without refueling and operate at 50,000ft altitude (modern passenger aircraft cruise at 35,000-45,000ft). General Atomics is keen to open an office in New Delhi. Washington has announced the export 22 unarmed Predator drones following an Indian Navy request, but the US government is yet to make a formal decision.
Another 1500 mini UAV’s are needed for which US company Boeing is pitching for its ScanEagle. Boeing has offered the latest version of the UAV having in-flight launch and retrieval system where the UAV is mounted on another vertical take-off UAV and ejected when it reaches a certain height. When the Scan Eagle returns from its mission, the vertical take-off UAV hooks onto it and lands vertically – meaning it can land on ship decks ( even those which do not have helicopter landing decks) , small spaces and forward posts of the Indian Army located in the Himalayas.
The Boeing’s UAV can be fitted with applications like surveillance, reconnaissance, forest fire and gas pipeline monitoring. The company has offered to come to India and help local companies in development of parts and sub-parts.
Apart from this the Indian Navy and Coast Guard want 50 ship-borne mini UAVs for monitoring sea lines of communications, search and rescue and anti-piracy roles. These UAVs coupled with the predator can incrementally add to capacities of maritime patrol aircraft like the P-8I and ASW helicopters at sea.
Apart from Boeing, two Israeli companies: Aeronautics, maker of the Orbiter mini-UAV, and Elbit Systems, maker of the Skylark. Elbit is in talks with public sector giant Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). “Procurement cases for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are being actively pursued,” Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said at press conference in New Delhi on December 2 last year.
The Indian Army proposes to equip UAVs down to the battalion level, while the Air Force plans to have fully operational squadrons of surveillance UAVs and unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV). The MALE UAV: Even as the DRDO also has an independent unmanned surveillance air vehicle on the drawing board, to develop a solar-powered HALE UAV, the Ministry of Defence, is also considering procurement of MALE-categoryUAV.
This will be under the “Make in India” initiative from Indian Companies. The DRDO’s Rustom II – now rebranded as Tapas -- is a MALE category and in the running to be one of the UAV’s to be inducted. The DRDO will make 10 UAV’s for test-flying before going for certification. It will be only by end 2017 that the Armed forces will be coming to test the machines. Its a Rs 1,500 crore project.
The UCAV AURA: Its an autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), being developed by the DRDO for which the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) is the design agency.
The UCAV will be capable of releasing missiles, bombs and precision-guided munitions. The programme is in its project definition stage. The design is likely to be a stealthy flying-wing concept aircraft with internal weapons bay and a turbofan engine. The AURA will cruise at medium altitude and will be capable of carrying two or more guided strike weapons with on-board sensors for targeting and weapon guidance.
India is looking to have rail-launching system for missiles, bombs and precision guided munitions the AURA will carry. In 2015 Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had given a written answer in Rajya Sabha saying AURA will be powered by a ‘dry-engine’, indicating that it could be a version of the Kaveri engine.