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Authorities in India have realized the importance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) missions for defense and homeland security. The security forces of India already have several UAV models that they acquired from Israeli companies, primarily Israel Aircraft industry (IAI), but they want more.
India has long understood the benefits of UAVs in terms of military operations and therefore began the process of purchasing these systems. The potential of the UAV market is enormous, and recently a number of local companies have been pressured into introducing their own systems.
India’s armed forces UAVs have been in operation for more than a decade. Having long suffered from the constraints provided by the technical limitations of its defense industry and chronic delays in project delivery by its military R&D Organization (DRDO), India was forced to import ‘off-the-shelf’ models, especially from Israel.
Currently, India operates a tactical UAV model, the ‘Searcher’ and a MALE UAV model ‘Heron‘ made in Israel. The Indian Air Force recently purchased the ‘Harrop‘ UAV, also made in Israel, which is an unarmed combat aircraft (UCAV) and is due to become operational this year.
The Indian Navy has also acquired the ‘Heron’ model UAV which is suited for its requirements of long-term missions on the open sea. In addition to this UAV, the Air Force and Army have also introduced locally-developed models of the DRDO into service, the ‘Lakashya‘ and ‘Nishan‘.
India’s military forces operate these systems during military operations, for disaster management, and to lend assistance to civilian authorities. Today all the UAVs in the Indian Army Authority are controlled at the operational level.
According to The Indian Defense Journal, if we were to analyze the current UAVs held by India, it could definitely be concluded that India has made a great effort to succeed in the race aimed at developing a significant amount of UAVs. India has grown to realize the importance in the role of UAVs as an effective multi-purpose instrument for use in combat operations, against terrorism across its borders, in the fight against insurgency, as well as to monitor internal and communist underground movements. Due to the worsening of situations involving the roles the UAVs are required for, India has allocated a significant share of its defense budget to increase this UAV fleet.
In addition to direct purchases there are also local development efforts, even though they have met with limited success. Previously, only government agencies such as the DRDO, the main authority involved in developing UAVs, the National Aeronautical Laboratory (NAL), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) were involved in developing UAVs for security services. As far as success in these efforts is concerned, the DRDO has so far succeeded in developing only two models of UAVs, the ‘Lakashya‘ and ‘Nishant‘. It is currently working on a MALE UAV locally known as the ‘Rustom‘, the short-range UAV ‘Pawan‘, as well as the ‘Gagan with the support of Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). In addition to these, additional UAV development programs such as the AURA UAV Development program and the solar UAV development program are currently in the pipline.
Alongside government initiatives, the private sector has shown great interest in the design, development and manufacture of UAVs. The lack of technological development capabilities so far has delayed India’s local UAV programs. One way that sector is considering the upgrade of Indian technology is through joint development with other partners. The DRDO is currently developing an autonomous UAV for observation missions, and is also looking for a partner to develop a solar energy powered HALE UAV.
Since government-owned entities have delivered far less than promised, it appears that acquisitions from external companies will constitute the main supply source for Indian military forces in the coming years. While the process of preparing local development plans for UAVs continues, battle units of India’s Military Forces have issued various requests for information and quotations for equipment from leading arms manufacturers, especially for the acquisition of UAVs and battle UAVs. Looking at recently published tenders, India’s Ministry of Defense has shown interest in the acquisition of different types of UAV platforms. Suppliers believe that UAV market opportunities in India are worth 2 to 3 billion U.S. dollars over the next 10 years.
Without doubt, India has reached the stage that its requirements have grown to the point that they must increase their acquisition of UAVs. The Indian Army alone wants to acquire at least 1500 systems over the next three to four years and these systems will carry drones to high altitudes for prolonged stay (HALE UAV). The Indian Air Force needs Battle UAV’s (UCAVs), while the Indian Navy is interested in rotating winged UAVs and battle-UAVs.
Consequently, the main requirements displayed by India’s military forces will be for ‘bomber drones’ and ‘battle drones’. Given the way India perceives continuing threats against it, it is very likely that the Authorities in India will be managing a fleet of about 21 Battle/Assault UAVs within the next two years.