New Delhi: In a first, the Army has ordered over 100 tactical kamikaze Israeli drones, used in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, to beef up its operational capability along the borders with Pakistan and China.
The loitering munition ‘SkyStriker’ will be manufactured in Bengaluru by a joint venture between Israel’s Elbit System and India’s Alpha Design, which is part of the Adani Group.
The SkyStriker is already under production in India to meet export orders.
Sources in the defence and security establishment said the contract was inked on 31 August and it entails the delivery to be completed within 12 months.
While the Indian Air Force has been operating the much larger Harop Loitering Munition for over a decade, this is the first time that the Army has sought a kamikaze drone, which can carry a warhead of 5-10 kg.
“Both Harop and SkyStriker are different. The Harop is much bigger in size and more lethal; it can be used to take out complete command and control structures,” a source told ThePrint. “The SkyStriker is cheaper and can be used for tactical operations. This is a force enabler for the troops on the ground.”
The SkyStriker was extensively used by Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia to strike moving targets including armoured personnel carriers.
Sources said while the SkyStriker can be used as a standalone system, it can also be used in multiples or as a swarm.
The SkyStriker drone
As the name suggest, kamikaze drones are those which fall on to a target and explode. They are formally known as loitering munitions, which means that they can loiter in air and then drop down on their target when ordered to.
The SkyStriker, which is launched through an automatic pneumatic launch platform, can reach a distance of 20 km in less than 10 minutes.
The total range for the system is around 100 km, sources said. According to Elbit, it can loiter and pursue a target for up to 2 hours with a 5 kg warhead or up to1 hour with a 10 kg warhead.
At maximum speed (100 knots), SkyStriker can reach a distance of 20 km within 6.5 minutes, reducing the loitering time by 15 minutes.
Since SkyStriker has an electric propulsion, it makes much less sound, allowing covert operations at low altitude.
According to Elbit, SkyStriker uses autonomous navigation during its cruising and loitering phases.
When preparing to strike, it navigates based on its electro-optical “lock” on the target. Explaining further, it said that during the strike phase, SkyStriker can dive at extremely high speeds of up to 300 knots and can withstand winds of up to 20 knots.
In 2017, the year SkyStriker was launched, the company had said the system also provides significant flexibility such as the ability to choose any target, to engage at any direction and in various angles (shallow to steep) while significantly decreasing costs.
“Moreover, SkyStriker enables the operator to abort a strike up to two seconds to impact, to re-engage and in case of lack of authorised targets to order a safe return home,” the report had then said.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)