September 23, 2022 By Vaseline

Indian Army is preparing to procure hundreds of armed swarm drones and loitering munitions

The Indian Army has issued Statements of Interest (EoI) for the procurement of Autonomous Surveillance and Armed Drone Swarms (A-SADS) for desert/plains and high altitude areas (HAA). This follows several recent developments regarding swarm drones and loitering munitions for the Army and Indian Air Force (IAF).

While the EoI for A-SADS (Desert/Plains) was released on September 20th, that for A-SADS (HAA) was released on September 22nd. A-SADS would allow tactical commanders with a surveillance-capable force multiplier to provide close reconnaissance based on alternative surveillance inputs and engagement of various targets. Possible targets include vehicles, artillery, air defense systems, and command and control centers.

The Make II project will be divided into two phases. During the prototype development phase, twenty drones of each A-SADS type will be developed. These can carry a variety of payloads. While 75% of drones will be fitted with standard EO/IR sensors, the rest would feature more capable EO/IR sensors with laser range finders. The drones will be able to carry three types of ammunition: 3 kg and 5 kg HE (fragmentation) bombs and 100mm RHA penetration shaped charge top attack ammunition.

The Army intends to procure five sets of A-SADS (Desert/Plains) drones, each set consisting of 50 units. 400 A-SADS (HAA) drones are now required, with five sets of 50 drones equipped along with two sets of A-SADS (HAA) of 75 drones each. While the 50-drone sets are destined for various swivel corps, the two 75-drone A-SADS (HAA) sets would be used by army strike corps.

A set of 50 drones includes two ground stations, 50 each with 3kg and 5kg HE bombs (fragmentation bombs) and 20 top attack ammunition. 15 drones would be configured for aerial data transmission. For the two sets of 75 A-SADS (HAA) drones, each set would contain four ground stations, 75 each of 3 kg and 5 kg HE (fragmentation) bombs and 30 top attack ammunition. 25 drones would be configured for aerial data transmission.

A-SADS will be battery powered and weigh less than 50kg each. The size during launch should be within 3.5 × 2.5m. A-SADS (HAA) can be launched at altitudes in excess of 4500m, which is 1500m more than required for the desert/plain variant. With air data relay, the range of A-SADS (HAA) should be 30 km and 50 km for the desert/plain version. The endurance should be two or three hours. The VTOL drones would be able to use multiple modes of operation, including a fully autonomous mode.

Each swarm set can be broken down into smaller groups for operational needs. The drones would be able to use multiple global positioning systems and operate in non-GPS environments. The procurement of A-SADS was granted Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) on July 26th. The Indian Army had announced this 26.8 who introduced it swarm of drones into the mechanized armed forces. The Army also ordered 100 heterogeneous swarm drones from Newspace Research and Technologies in September 2021 to develop operational concepts and research the technologies involved. Raphe Mphibr swarm drones have also been ordered.

The IAF has meanwhile launched the second edition of the Mehar Baba Swarm Drone Development Competition. The first edition, launched in 2018, aimed to develop 50 drone swarms for disaster relief operations and Newspace Research and Technologies was declared the best swarm architecture in 2021.

The second edition aims to achieve “swarm drone-based foreign object detection (FOD) on the aircraft operating area”. The three-phase competition would end in October 2023. Participants are expected to present a collaborative VTOL-UAV solution equipped with sensors and secure communications that can scan the operational areas, detect FOD and provide its image and exact location at a central monitoring station.

The launch and recovery of the drones could be done manually or mechanically from the ground. It would detect and report sub-centimeter objects on runways, taxiways and aprons. The entire activity of scanning, detecting and reporting objects in all these areas must be completed within 30 minutes. EO, IR, MMW radar, LIDAR or other sensors can be used for detection.

Several DRDO laboratories are also involved in the development of various swarm drones. One of them is a swarm of 10 multicopter-type drones with 8 kg payload, 20 kg take-off weight and a range of 35 km with an endurance of 45 minutes. Swarms of 150 light drones are also being developed.

Z Motion Autonomous Systems Trinetra

Meanwhile, India continues to aggressively pursue loitering munitions procurement and development. Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) has tested a VTOL loitering ammunition called the ALS 50. The economic times reported that the ammunition has been tested in a desert environment and will soon enter service. The army issued one to obtain RfP Trinetra loitering ammo developed by Z Motion and Solar Group. This ammunition was tested in June 2022 in Ladakh. As part of the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), India and the US are also developing airborne drones.

The EoI documents for A-SADS also note that drone technology has been a force multiplier in various recent conflicts and that India also faces such threats from its adversaries. With the development and introduction of such niche systems, the Indian armed forces are trying to meet “urgent operational needs”.