Monday, August 2, 2010

India begins hunt for mini drones

After launching the hunt for combat drones, the Indian armed forces are now looking to induct micro and mini UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for snooping missions. Plans are even afoot to induct small UAVs which can perform "a killer role".

The IAF, for instance, has now issued an RFI (request for information) to armament companies for micro UAVs with an "operational endurance in excess of 30 minutes" but weighing less than two kg to ensure they can even be operated by a single person.

IAF wants these micro drones, with fuel or battery operated engines and latest avionics, to be capable of being "hand-launched" or with "vertical take-off and landing" capabilities. As per specifications, they should be equipped with CCD (charged-coupled device) cameras and FLIR (forward-looking infra-red) payloads.

This comes even as the 1.13-million Army is on course to induct slightly bigger mini and micro spy drones in a major way for short-range surveillance and intelligence-gathering missions as well as detection of NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) contaminants in the battlefield.

The force wants some of these man-portable spy drones to be capable of even hitting small but high-value enemy targets with explosives in a Kamikaze fashion. This is in keeping with Army's plan to induct such UAVs in phases right down to the battalion-level by the end of the 12th Plan (2012-2017).

Being stealthy because of their small size, these drones will also be used to equip Army's Para (Special Forces) battalions for covert missions beyond enemy lines, counter-terrorism operations and `beyond-the-hill' surveillance.

This comes soon after IAF issued a global RFI to armament giants worldwide for procurement of combat drones or UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles), with precision weapons and satellite data links, drawing lessons from the deadly use of American `Predators' and `Reapers' against the Taliban in the Af-Pak region, as earlier reported by TOI.

Since the 1999 Kargil conflict, India has inducted over 100 Israeli UAVs and uses them in surveillance and precision-targeting roles. The armed forces also have some "killer" drones like Israeli Harpy UAVs, while more advanced ones like Harop have also being ordered. But UCAVs are a generation ahead since like fighter jets they come back to their bases to re-arm themselves with more missiles for the next mission.

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