UAVs Requirements of India and Procurement


UAVs are becoming increasingly sophisticated and intelligent. Physics does not allow UAVs to perform all missions and hence defining operational requirement is the most important activity for choosing / designing the UAV be it surveillance UAVs (SUAV) or the Pilotless Target Aircraft (PTA). The present paper delves into the various problem encountered in the operation of UAVs, a glossary of available UAVs in the global market, India’s perceived requirements and how India can promote its defence industry and collaborate to achieve “Make in India” in UAVs and possibly export them. Keywords: Endurance, Payloads, Operational Requirements, Indigenization, Certification


Defining what constitutes a UAV will be difficult task as anything unmanned and flying can be considered a UAV. In the present paper we use the broad definition i.e. flying without a human pilot and controllable during flight either by a remote pilot or autonomously via control algorithm. Using this definition four major categories of UAVs are present – fixed wing aircraft, autonomous helicopters, quadrotors and Lighter than Air systems like Airships (LTA).

Government of India has not confirmed the project of developing Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) for now, hence the paper will concentrate only on two requirement of UAVs i.e. surveillance and practice targets.

Operational Requirements

Indian geography poses large challenge in this area as the country has long maritime boundary, desert, mountains and plains. UAVs are required to monitor foreign troops, equipment movement, weather conditions and tracking of targets. Longer boundaries require UAVs that have long endurance, lower speeds and in some cases hovering capabilities.
UAVs in the desert must have electronics that will survive in heat. The imaging cameras must be able to penetrate the sand storms and give meaningful picture. Mountainous terrain and the associated winds will pose problems of manoeuvrability and other line of sight issues. The marine environment will pose the issue of corrosive sea air and capabilities of landing in water.
In all the cases, the images or videos captured have to be processed to get meaningful information.

Terrorist Activity
Non-State actors becoming tech savvy poses more challenges. They are difficult to track, have a much bigger surprise element, use crude to sophisticated methods and can cause much bigger psychological damage. Given that UAVs with payloads up to half Kg and half hour endurance are freely available in the market as toys, making a crude missile out of it should not be technically challenging. “Aerial Terrorism and the Threat from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” by Ajay Lele et al is good read in respect to the instances of terrorist activities planned using aerial terrorism. It may not be an exaggeration to say that monitoring of sensitive areas, Naxalite infested or cross border terror prone, will play much bigger in defining the operational requirements of the Army.

Surveillance requirements will be tightly coupled with the training programs. The incoming threats that need to be taken care of will be incoming rockets (not missiles which are the realm of Anti-ballistic missiles), explosive laden UAVs, parachutes (read Mumbai airport) and catapulted objects. These will not only pose threat at the borders but also to VVIP security, industrial installations, religious congregations and sports.
Neutralizing these threats in city theatre will require training in high precision shooting with least collateral damage. Doctrine have to be evolved to only ‘damage’ and not ‘destroy’ the threat.
Range of velocities of these threats would vary from low speed 5-10 m/s threats up to supersonic. A range of targets from Towed, ballistic trajectory targets to high speed jet powered UAV will be required. The UAVs will have to be reusable and should be able to simulate the incoming target. Here the issue will be even complicated as simulating an actual incoming
target will mean that reconnaissance information on the enemy equipment will have to be shared with the OEM of PTA.

Solution for Indian Requirements
The above two sections can be summarized with one sentence that Indian conditions are unique to itself. Other countries do not have jungles of Dantewada, Kumbh of Allahabad, Grand mosque of Bhopal with 100,000 people praying together to protect. They have not faced attacks such as Mumbai 2008. The enemy we are dealing is unique and hence the solutions cannot be off the shelf. Looking at the operational requirements we will have to look at a bouquet of solutions that have been derived from each other and are completely reusable.
The first focus area is continuing monitoring. This unfortunately cannot be achieved with fixed wing UAVs or helicopters. India already has the capability to develop airships that can ‘loiter’ for up to a week before being taken down the replenishment. India can collaborate with foreign partners for procuring high technology items such as High speed camera, long range camera, night vision equipment and highly reliable engine for the airships in the beginning. Some of these can then be pursued as “Make in India” projects. The major advantage of fielding an airship is that it has “Free Lift”, the major source of consumption of power. Also the average payload carried by a LTA is much higher than its counterparts.
The disadvantage of low speed can be taken care of by augmenting the capability using fixed wing UAV in case of emergencies. The forces may also be worried about the “shooting down” of airships by enemy. This is a legitimate concern, however the incident will be a good indicator of escalation of hostilities and the payloads on the Airships can be brought down safely using a parachute.
India will also need long range autonomous fixed wing UAVs with long endurance. Again the basic technology is available in India in terms of making light weight fuselage of UAV or aerodynamic design. New carbon-carbon composites can be used in the manufacturing of UAV such that they are able to resist corrosive marine environment, extreme temperatures and provide insulation for the electronics housed inside the fuselage. Basic aerodynamic configuration can be derived that is not best but good enough for mission of surveillance and target. This will ensure the interchangeability and the numbers to make it attractive for private industry or foreign OEMs.
The need will be low speed UAVs and targets for simulation of incoming UAVs and catapulted objects. High speed UAVs usually powered by Jet engines will be required to simulate incoming mortars or rockets. These are available in the global market without restriction.
The authors personally does not recommend investing in autonomous helicopters for now as the technology is not mature enough and hence the project will be in the realm of DRDO and not Army. Since India does not have offensive intentions, investing in very long range UAVs with firing capabilities is also not discussed. The future here is of course promising. Also the Author has kept the issues of cost out of the scope of this paper.
UAVs Available

The Way Forward

Given the diverse and urgent needs it would be imperative that India invests in its own R&D in this area and takes help in form of foreign collaborations to deliver systems to Army. The BrahMos model of development that has been tried and tested can be used for development of class of UAVs and LTA systems. Collaboration of Indian Private Companies with foreign OEMs can also be given thought (MRTT).

A matrix of the operational requirements will have to be created by the user in consultation with industry. Design, manufacturing and user teams along with chosen foreign partners can deliberate on low cost solutions that are usable in multiple environments and threat scenarios. Since this exercise will take time, selection of ‘inexpensive’ platforms with nearly 30-50% match in Ops can be done as a stop gap measure. The platform purchased will become the basis of further development.

Extra Focus

A surveillance UAV is only as good as the data analysed from it. OEMs of several countries have research teams that invest heavily in Image Processing based data analysis, data archival and conversion of data to ‘information’. Foreign OEMs will be loath to share source codes of such critical and sensitive technology. It is imperative that there is separate mission mode program for development of such technologies. Necessary Super-computing facility can be easily arranged and the challenge will be development of such team and interaction with forces.

Another similar area will be development of system for the Guidance, Navigation and Controls of the UAVs be it LTA, PTA or SUAV. Same arguments as above apply here.

For PTA it may be required that some of very important threats be simulated as close as it can be. This can be done using modifications to the PTAs like making the Radar Cross Section or IR Signature closer to the threat. Development capabilities will have to be developed here too. For LTA systems having large surface area, flexible solar panels will enhance the operational scenario.

To summarize India has to pursue not only Make in India but “Made in India” for such critical capability. OEMs giving ToT and payloads will be happy to get away with the complexities of “Buy Global” and India will be proud owner of IP, a win-win.