Thursday, August 29, 2013

Indian Army More Than Doubles Its Mini-UAV Requirements For J&K Operations

Number could more than triple, if it invokes option to place follow-on orders for these mini-UAVs. Final tally may surpass five-fold increase.

Subsequent to recent reports that indicated the Indian Army's [IA] intention to acquire Mini Unmanned Aerial Vehicles [UAV], it recently issued a 'Request For Proposal [RFP' in that regard. While the earlier report suggested that the requirement would be for 20 mini-UAV systems, the number has now been increased to 49. This acquisition, as originally stated, is to be made using discretionary funds allocated, through the Army Commanders Special Financial Powers [ACSFP], to the Jammu & Kashmir [J&K]-based Northern Command of the Indian Army.


This bid invitation appears to be a modification of its earlier requirement itself, & is unlikely to be an all-new purchase. For one, no reports in the MSM to suggest that purchase, as part of the earlier notification, has already been made. Moreover, Qualitative Requirement [QR] stated now exactly matches the earlier mentioned. It would, therefore, elude logic for the Army would go through the whole process of 'jumping through hoops' all over again, barely a year later, for more of the same. Keeping future needs in mind, the IA has stated, under the 'Repeat Order' clause, that the chosen vendor must agree to supply an additional 50% of the number of mini-UAVs bought initially, under the same terms of agreement, if the Army places a follow-on order within 6 months of the first. Therefore, with 49 in the initial purchase & possible 24 more subsequently, the number could reach 73, a more than tripling in numbers from the original 20. The eventual number of these unmanned flying platforms could even surpass 110, more than five-fold jump, if one considers the upper limit of the 'Tolerance' clause, followed by invocation of the 'Repeat order' clause2. If one is unconvinced of the possibility of such leaps in inducted numbers, one only need read IAF's 'Flanker' story.

The technical specifications stated puts its requirements within the realms of standard applications of such UAVs, with work on more exotic ones being in the pipeline. Given that the requirement states that the UAV need no runway to take-off, it is likely to be hurled by hand into the air to propel it to take-off. It must also, subsequently, land without the need of paved runway. Once airborne, the Army would require it to fly over the pre-programmed flight path, without any human intervention. If, during mission, it encounters anomalous situations like low battery levels or loss of communication with its Ground Controllers, the UAV should have the capability to abort mission & return back automatically. Its surveillance capability would be judged on the ability of its day-time camera to discern a single human being from an altitude of at least 1000 metres, while the separate night Infra-Red [IR]-based camera would be expected to accomplish this from 500 metres. This, along with other capabilities required, indicates the need for the platform to be a 'Level 4' autonomous system, something that DRDO-developed UAVs too claim to exhibit.


Interestingly the Army asks that the system also be compatible with Google Maps for navigation. In addition to regular scheduled maintenance & servicing obligations, it stipulates that the vendor respond within 24 hours of being informed of any faults in the system. If that implies making oneself present physically at location within 24 hours, it would be interesting to learn if its feasible for vendors based aboard to fulfil this requirement, unless they have an existing engineering operation in the country. Easier for Indian companies, OTOH, to be in a position to meet this challenge.

This increase in requirement, if the earlier news was reported correctly, makes for an interesting development. It would warrant a study to know if recent developments in the state of Jammu & Kashmir prompted this decision to scale up acquisition, barely a year after original plans were made known. Keep an eye out for developments.



2 = the 'Tolerance' clause states that the vendor must be ready to accept a 50% variation in the IA's initial numerical requirement, without correspondingly modifying its own offer. Thus a 50% increase from the 49 now required could bring the number to 75. If this is followed by the 'Repeat Order' clause, then an additional 50% of the 75 already bought would push the number to 112. Whether such numbers would be acquired via ACSFP, is a different issue, though.

Also Read: Automated Take-Off From Aircraft Carriers For India's Naval Light Combat Aircraft [LCA-Navy]