New Delhi: In a span of less than two weeks, the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force have signed multiple contracts worth over Rs 500 crore in the sphere of drone technology with the focus being on Indian companies amid Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for adapting new technology of warfare.
The contracts signed by the Services include those for buying kamikaze drones or loitering munitions to swarm drones with both kill and surveillance capability besides counter drone systems.
Sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint that the directive from the “top” is very clear — focus on Indian companies.
They said the Prime Minister’s Office has been pushing for adopting newer warfare technology, something which was seen during the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict.
Sources termed the procurement of swarm drones and loitering munitions by the Army and Navy as a part of the ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’, known as RMA, which changes the way the war is fought.
Incidentally, all contracts are being signed under the emergency procurement route. Sources said this is because the process is faster and the aim right now is to support the domestic companies while they work on the upgraded variants.
Army signs maximum number of contracts
Leading the three Services on the new contracts signed is the Army, which has signed three separate deals for various types of drones.
This includes two deals worth over Rs 200 crore for Swarm drones with Indian start ups — Bengaluru-based NewSpace Research and Tech, run by former IAF officer Sameer Joshi, and Noida-based firm Raphe, sources said.
Both firms are Indian and not joint ventures with a foreign player.
The Army has also ordered over 100 tactical Indo-Israel kamikaze drones, used in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, to beef up its operational capability along the borders with Pakistan and China.
These drones, which are to be supplied in 12 months, will be manufactured in Bengaluru by a joint venture between Israel’s Elbit System and India’s Alpha Design, which is now part of the Adani Group.
The Navy has also placed a large order with an Indian joint venture firm for specialised drones, the sources said.
The force had also placed an order with defence PSU Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) for the supply of Naval Anti Drone System (NADS), developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The Indian Air Force, which is looking at larger tactical drones, has signed up a deal with Indian firm Zen Technologies for counter unmanned aerial systems.
Swarm drones and loitering munition, the way ahead
The order placed with New Space Research and Tech is for drones that can hit targets with five to 10 kilograms of explosives while also being used for surveillance and for carrying urgent medical and other supplies to the troops.
The capability of these drones was showcased earlier this year during the Army Day parade at Delhi Cantonment.
A swarm of 75 drones, developed by the Army and NewSpace Research and Tech, had then showcased offensive capability by carrying out a simulated kamikaze attack on targets, including enemy tanks, fuel depots, terror hideout and radar positions, among others.
The Army had then termed the system a “disruption technology”, which can hit targets 50 km inside enemy territory.
The company had come first in the Army’s swarm drone evaluation trials at Ahmednagar, Maharashtra earlier this year. Incidentally, the algorithm used by the 2018 start-up for its drones is of Indian origin.
The company which came second — Raphe — has also been given over Rs 100 crore swarm drones contract, mainly for surveillance and load carrying capacity.
The quadcopter drones, capable of carrying multiple weights of payload, were shown delivering medical aids and para-dropping essential supplies to showcase that the system can be used to support troops deployed in harsh and forward positions.
The Army had then announced that a total of 600 kg supplies can be delivered by these drones.
The plan right now, according to sources, is to bring out more complex and upgraded versions in the future, which could then be part of a larger procurement process.
Each of the three Services is also focusing on loitering munition which changes the warfare dynamics. These loitering munitions are of different types – both for long range and tactical operations.