Thursday, December 2, 2021

Indian “Drone Combat Skills” promise change in IAF strategy

by Vijay Grover

While more than ten countries in the world have used Drones effectively as a Weapon and conducted drone strikes, India has been one of the few that has the technology and capability but has not used it in a strike mission.


The United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia and the United Arab Emirates are the countries that have carried out Drone Combat effectively, however countries, including Saudi Arabia, India, and China, among others, maintain armed drones in their arsenals but have restrained from its use.


Given the technological advancements made by several Indian companies, the Indian army and the Indian Air Force plan to use the Drone Technology more effectively not just for surveillance but for combat roles as well. The recent incidents of several incursions on the western front by drones carrying payloads of weapons and drugs are a cause of concern, which now has the Indian side gear up to meet the many challenges.


As part of the Swarnim Vijay Varsh to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Liberation of Bangladesh, the Indian Air Force unveiled publicly its plan to use the Swarm Drone technology developed indigenously.


Should all go as per the IAF’s plans; the battlefield in future will see swarms of drones deployed for surgical strikes and combat missions.


The Indian Air Force demonstrated its plans for building future capabilities to develop Swarm drone squads at the Indian Air Force Station, Yelahanka at the end of September. The demonstration included displaying the deployment of heterogeneous unmanned autonomous swarm aircraft system. The combination swarm included drones code named “Baaz”, “Yodha” and “ Ghatak” weighing up to 20 kgs. The Baaz, weighing 25 kgs can take off vertically and flies at up to 95 kmph. It demonstrated its capability to survey the combat area and feed the inputs using laser and infrared technologies to the six “Yodha” drones, which can intelligently carry out a strike on the target getting real time feedback and using artificial intelligence. The “Yodhas” are capable of carrying 1kg explosive.
As a support and back up for finishing off a target, the small 1.8 kg “ Ghatak” killer drones which can carry out a kamikaze kind of attack on mobile targets.

Teams from three Indigenous companies displayed how the swarm of drones get airborne and settle in the sky, communicating with each other using Artificial intelligence and instructions from the command centre. Bengaluru based Newspace Research technologies, Chennai based Dhaksha unmanned technologies in association with Anna University and Team Flair unmanned systems in association with Delhi Technological University were adjudged the top three companies out of the 154 who had registered for the skill demonstration competition.


Taking forward the call by the Prime minister on “AtmaNirbharBharat” involving innovation and development of indigenised nascent technologies, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has conceptualised the Mehar Baba Swarm Drone Competition, , the initiative by IAF aimed to encourage development of Swarm Drones, for utilisation in in varied domains.

The IAF provided mentoring and compensated the design and development cost of the prototypes. Wing Commander KR Srikant of the Team Dhaksha told IADB, “The drones we have developed are capable of identifying targets and striking them. The payload carrying capacity will depend on the mission requirements. The drones have been tested for up to a distance of 100 km, and have the endurance to fly for over three-and-half hours. “These technology skills of the new warfare system promised to become the future of the Indian Air Force. Air chief Air marshal VR Chaudhari who interacted with young aeronautical engineers who designed the Drones for modern warfare for Indian Air force was impressed by the demonstration. Air Marshal VR Chaudhari said, “This could be path breaking and gives IAF access to cutting-edge technology in a ‘rapidly developing area’ which has tremendous operational potential for the military and civil sectors. This is the only way to generate new technology.’


To encourage the young start-ups the competition was conceptualised to evolve proprietary design, development, manufacturing and production of “low cost – high impact” solutions for Swarm drone technology. The competition, which was open to only indigenous talent and indigenous start-ups, saw several young entrepreneurs demonstrate their skills.

IAF provided constant mentoring and guidance to the participating teams during the course of the competition and is now assessing the capabilities of the new combat technology for future use. Based on operational requirements and the objectives of the competition, the flying and technical evaluation of the fielded products was carried out by senior officials. The prototypes were evaluated in a realistic environment at Air Force Air to Ground ranges. The competition culminated with five finalists show casing capabilities at Pokhran in Mar 21. The Design and Development cost of the prototypes compensated by IAF was approximately to the tune of IRS 2.5 crore which was granted to develop the drones for the winning teams.


The Finalists were acknowledged and as part of Swarnim Vijay Varsh celebrations at Air Force Station, Yelahanka and were felicitated by Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari. The Air Force intends to make this competition an annual event to encourage young indigenous talent for the Made in India military drones. Indian “Drone Combat Skills” promise change in IAF strategy.

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