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3 Indian start-ups win IAF swarm drone competition, at least 2 in line for defence contracts

IAF's 3-year-long Mehar Baba Swarm Drone Competition was conceptualised to encourage the development of swarm drones, and was open to indigenous talent and firms.

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New Delhi: Three Indian start-ups have won a three-year-long swarm drone competition organised by the Indian Air Force, which will now pave the way for at least two of them to get formal contracts for surveillance, attack and electronic warfare drones.

The ‘swarm architecture’ award went to NewSpace Research & Technologies Pvt Ltd, run by former IAF officer Sameer Joshi. Incidentally, NewSpace had recently won a USD 15 million swarm drone order from the Indian Army.

The ‘communication architecture’ award went to a Delhi Technology University team in a tie-up with Adani Defence, and the ‘drone architecture’ award went to Dhaksha Unmanned Systems.

Sources in the defence establishment told ThePrint that the results which were announced Sunday took into account the unique characteristics offered by all the three companies, and there was no single winner per se.

However, NewSpace is understood to have performed well on all parameters.

The IAF had conceptualised the Mehar Baba Swarm Drone Competition, which was launched on 3 October 2018, to encourage development of swarm drones, for utilisation in varied domains. The name of the competition honoured Late Air Commodore Mehar Singh, affectionately called ‘Baba’ Mehar Singh by his associates and admirers in the IAF.

It was conceptualised to evolve proprietary design, development, manufacturing and production of “low cost-high impact” solutions for swarm drone technology, the IAF said in a statement Sunday. The competition was open to only indigenous talent and indigenous start-ups.

Also read: India adds punch to its firepower against China and a mix of defensive-offensive strategy

‘Operationalised future warfare philosophy in real time’

As reported by ThePrint in September, the finalisation of the winners will now pave the way for inking formal contracts.

The firms will get assistance from select Base Repair Depots, which carry out major repair and overhaul of aircraft and other equipment of the IAF, since the force is looking at a more complex system than what has been showcased so far.

The firms will also get armament procured from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Industry sources said with the induction of swarm drones in their capability matrix, the Indian armed forces have operationalised a future warfare philosophy in real time.

This capability puts India at par with nations like the US, China, UK, Russia and Turkey, which are inducting swarm drones into their arsenal, the sources said.

When the IAF began the Mehar Baba Swarm Drone Competition in 2018, it received 154 applicants from across the country.

Of these, 54 were shortlisted in the first round and 20 were further selected in the second round.

These 20 were then asked to demonstrate 10 drones with 10-km range and 10 medical drops in Pokhran. The companies were reimbursed Rs 25 lakh each by the IAF.

The top five from the 20 were given a task of demonstrating a 50-km range with 20 drones and 20 medical or emergency aid drops in GPS-denied, rogue drone and anti-drone jamming environments.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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