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Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

By Team Q-Tech

The UAV ecosystem is an excellent force multiplier and brings the synergy between the three Services to optimise their employment. It has been undergoing revolutionary innovations. Unmanned Aircraft Systems are an emerging sector of the aerospace due to its capability in undertaking high threat tasks.

The UAV ecosystem is undergoing revolutionary innovations on requirement basis because drones can boost efficiencies across a variety of sectors. Militarily, the UAVs are great force multipliers and bring the synergy between the three Services to optimise their employment. Presently, the three Indian Services have a somewhat limited numbers of UAVs deployed in India, mainly Searcher I & II, Heron, Gagan UAV, Rustom, Golden Hawk, Samhams Technologies, Abhyas,  AURA, Fluffy,  Imperial Eagle, Kapothaka, Lakshya,  Netra, Nishant, Ulka, NRUAV, Slybird, Black Kite, Pushpak, Dhaksha, Indian, Pawan, Nishant and Maraal. There should be a phenomenal rise in their numbers in the coming years as the Service are looking towards its increasing individual requirements. With the growing use and importance of UAVs in the 21st-century warfare, the countries of the world are trying to replace the manned UAV with unmanned in large numbers providing lucrative opportunities for the manufacturers of the UAVs.

The drone has found a special place in India, besides surveillance and defence application, it is very widely used in civil aviation, commercial purposes, agricultural operations and surveillance to filmmaking and disaster management, etc. It is estimated commercial applications of drone technology could replace current business services and labor worth $127 billion in the very near future.

Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAVs) are unmanned, weaponized, most advanced, quick to carry sensors and intelligence to deal with threats. They are more stealthy and maneuverable and are more survivable than manned aerial vehicles. The technology exists today to produce UCAVs capable of effectively carrying out both air-superiority and interdiction missions. Moreover, UCAVs have the potential to be more cost-effective than any other aerial system currently owned or planned by the Armed Forces. It depends on real-time intelligence to alert to the known threats so that appropriate measures can be taken.

The modern UCAV features include:-

  • GPS, Accelerometer, Gyroscope-for autonomous operation, flight stability, pre-programmed flight;
  • Video/IR camera- surveillance, manual operation of UAV
  • Satellite antenna- data communication, control
  • Radar- detection of moving objects for autonomous operation and targeting of warheads.
  • Warheads-combat UAVs include warheads like missiles to destroy enemy targets such as radars.

Currently, few UCAVs in use are - US based Tomahawk cruise missile, Israel's small and reusable UCAV called CUTLASS 275lb propeller plane has a 300 km range and carries a 35lb fragmenting warhead to destroy missile launchers and radars. CUTLASS follows operator designated waypoints to a search area where it autonomously searches for potential targets and queries the operator for approval to release ammunition.

Global UAV Market

Currently, UAV is in use in more than 50 countries, the UAVs have witnessed a significant increase in demand from developing countries. Unmanned Aircraft Systems are an emerging sector of the aerospace industry with a great opportunity that can be leveraged to high profitability shortly. There is likely to be significant growth in this sector driven by low cost and its capability in undertaking top threat task. Defence spending is growing more towards unmanned UCAV.

Presently, the global UAV market is largely dominated by the military segment (about 89%) with the enhanced military technical capabilities of UAVs. Robust demand from the civilian/commercial segment in coming years is expected to lead to the significant changes in the structure of the market. The global UAV market is forecasted to be worth $7.95 billion this year and is expected to grow by 6.4% CAGR over the next ten years, reaching the US $16.73 billion by 2027.

Indian UAV Market

Though UAVs have been in service with the three defence services in small numbers since the late 1990s, their mass scale adoption and integration with existing and projected fighting systems have begun in earnest only in the last few years. Thus we can say that India's UAV market is still in its early stages of lifecycle with robust growth prospects. UAV's most used in India includes Rustom, Searcher-I & II, Heron for performing operations at the border, traffic control, rescue operations, communication, etc.

During the period 2014-2027 the requirement of UAV's for the Indian Navy is 60-100, Indian Air Force-300-500 and the Army is expected to procure 1500-2000 considering the number of troops on the ground that requires the system. The IAF has emphasized this capability and has plans to have fully operational UAV and UCAV squadrons in the near future. They need to have a balanced fleet of manned & unmanned aircraft for the future battle scenario. The future would also see the entry of directed energy weapons mounted on UAVs for practical usage. Till date, India has bought UAV platforms worth approximately $1.6 Billion (Rs 8250 crores).  Projections show that India is likely to spend approx $4 billion by 2027 (Refer Fig). With the growing importance of UAVs in the 21st-century battlefield, the Indian Armed Forces are looking forward to reducing the high ratio of manned platforms from present 95% to 50% by 2027 and beyond in a phased manner.

At present, Israel is the leading supplier for UAV systems and related equipment in the Indian market. With increasing procurements of UAVs by India's defence forces, players from countries such as the U.K., France, Russia, and Germany are expected to tap the Indian market.

Indian Industry

Further, considering the UAV applications, there is and will be a massive demand for UAVs for military/homeland application accounting for the majority of the share. Other than military/homeland application, law enforcement is emerging as a critical application for UAV owing to the significant growth in the crime rate, especially in metro cities. Additionally, before the imposed restrictions on the use of UAVs for civil application by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), mini-UAVs have been used for application related to events. DGCA is likely to introduce a new set of regulations on the usage of UAVs, subsequently fueling the demand, especially in the retail and hospitality sectors.

With the rise in demand and the use of a drone for specific purposes, several manufacturers have come up with a variety of drones, depending upon the user-requirement and environmental conditions. Some the manufactures that had Industrial License and tied up with defence sector and supply drones are given below.

  • Adani Defense and Aerospace
  • Alpha Design Technologies
  • Ashok Leyland
  • Aurora Integrated Systems
  • Dynamatic Technologies
  • IDEA Forge
  • Jubilant Aeronautics
  • MKU
  • Speck systems Ltd
  • Taneja Aerospace
  • Tata Advanced System (TAS)

As of now, two U.S. based firms, AeroVironmen and Boeing and two Israeli based firms, Elbit Systems and Aeronautics have shown interest in various RFI issued.  AeroVironment, has announced a UAV partnership with Dynamatic Technologies. Both the companies are currently working towards co-developing the Cheel UAV, a “pathfinder project” under the aegis of the U.S.-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative. On the other hand, Aeronautics is still to zero on its Indian partner.

Some the firms most recent entrant in Mini UAV, Aerial targets or UAV for civil applications are as under:-

 Import

India is likely to procure the armed and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) from General Atomics Aeronautical through US government, in a $2-3 billion deal which is under finalization stage. Indian Firm Sankhya Infotech has entered into a collaboration with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) to train pilots in operating a fleet of 22 Sea Guardian Predator Drones (MQ-9 Reaper).

DAC has approved procurement of 54 Israeli HAROP attack drones (has a 20-kilogram ammunition package) which can crash enemy military targets and destroy them. The Air Force already has an inventory of around 110 of these drones equipped with electro-optical sensors to loiter over such as surveillance bases and radar stations before exploding them.

 Conclusion

The use and requirement of the drone has been steadily rising. Now, the focus is on unmanned and combat UCAV rather than manned UAV's. For India's ambitious plan to acquire more drones and to upgrade the existing drone, it has presently signed a deal with Israel and the US. Unmanned drones are very effective and quick in spotting and hitting the target in no time. Project 'Cheetah' is introduced to upgrade and weaponised drone. Drones are not just limited to agriculture, mining, survey, and communication, but can be put into use to tackle the terrorists operating in various hidden and unreached places.

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