|Defense Technology International May 01 , 2011 , p. 19|
| India’s military wants to buy 1,500 UAVs |
|Printed headline: Ramping Up|
| India is increasing procurement of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), a critical need in light of the insurgency it is fighting in the northeast, the ongoing threat of terrorism, tension along the Pakistan border, and its emerging role as a regional naval power and subsequent need for persistent maritime surveillance. The military wants to acquire at least 1,500 unmanned systems in the next 3-4 years, ranging from man-portable drones to high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) vehicles. |
A request for proposal (RFP) is expected this month from the army for 530 systems, capable of flying at 14,000 ft. An air force RFP will be released simultaneously for 150 systems, with ceiling of 22,000 ft., endurance of 1.5 hr. and 4-5 kg (8.8-11 lb.) of payload.
International contractors in ventures with Indian companies are vying for the business, even as products and prototypes emerge from local suppliers and government organizations such as the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) and the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO).
The military uses Israeli-built UAVs such as the Heron, Searcher Mk II and Harop from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The DRDO is developing a MALE drone called Rustom-H, funded with an initial allocation of $225 million. The Rustom-H is powered by an NPO-Saturn 36MT turbofan, has 12-15-hr. of endurance and carries payloads of 75 kg to 25,000 ft.
Despite the interest of private industry in India’s UAV procurement, there is concern that much of the business may go to government companies. Last year, after declaring its intent to involve the private sector in development of the Rustom-H, the project was awarded to government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) and Bharat Electronics Ltd. “This was disappointing,” says an industry source. “If there is no assurance of an order and government companies are always preferred, why should private industry spend time and invest money [in UAVs]?”
The navy, meanwhile, commissioned its second UAV squadron this year—with IAI Herons and Searcher Mk IIs—in the coastal city of Porbandar, Gujarat, near Pakistan. Its first UAV reconnaissance squadron is based in Kochi. “The location is ideal for covering the sea lanes from the Arabian Sea, as well as providing surveillance cover to high-value assets on the western coast,” says the navy. A third squadron is coming up in Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu, in the south.
The navy is also looking at deploying unmanned rotorcraft from ships. IAI and HAL are working on converting the Chetak naval helicopter to a UAV with endurance of 6 hr., ceiling of 15,000 ft., speed of 186 kph (115 mph.) and 220-kg payload. Following delays, however, the navy last year issued a RFI for a vertical-takeoff-and-landing UAV. Northrop Grumman has made presentations here for its MQ-8B Fire Scout.
With insurgency an ongoing problem, interest has emerged in Northrop Grumman’s Airborne Standoff Minefield Detection System (Astamids), which was demonstrated on Fire Scout. “The insurgents lay mines to be remotely triggered 4 in. below roads in the eastern states of India,” an army official says. “The algorithms to locate IEDs (improvised explosive devices) through processing Astamids imagery will prove a boon to the paramilitary forces coping with this problem.”
Honeywell Aerospace also carried out live demonstrations and trials of its T-Hawk micro air vehicle last year, claiming it detects IEDs planted 20 in. underground.
Boeing has had discussions about its catapult-launched ScanEagle for homeland security. “It can also be launched from a P-8 [maritime surveillance aircraft] or F/A-18E/F Super Hornet,” says Rick McCrary, director of international business development at Boeing. Scan-Eagle uses a pneumatic catapult and flies preprogrammed or operator-initiated missions guided by GPS and an onboard flight-control system. In India, ScanEagle could be of value in intelligence-gathering in border areas and over water.
No matter which UAVs are specified, challenges persist. Reliability will be an issue, as monsoon rains can be destructive. A doctrine for procurement by the air force and army is not clearly defined, creating confusion and duplication. There is also a lack of operational benchmarks and experience, and no testing range. Networking of UAVs, which requires secure digital links and interoperability, is also an issue.