You are here

Monday Morning Webinar on the topic “Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Indian Industries"

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • December 13, 2021
    Monday Morning Meeting
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    The webinar was conducted by the Institute on Monday, 13 December 2021. Group Captain A. Karunakaran (Research Fellow, MP-IDSA) was the speaker and Commodore Abhay Singh (Research Fellow, MP-IDSA) moderated the session.

    Executive Summary

    The session underscored the historical context of UAS, their use beginning from the 18th century, Chinese and Pakistani UAS programmes, and the Indian industries’ perspective on the “Make in India” drive by the Government of India for robust UAS defence-based use.

    Detailed Report

    Commodore Abhay Singh introduced the topic by pointing how Unmanned Aircraft Systems or Drones are an area of strength and strategic opportunities, having implications for national security. Additionally, they have an increasingly significant role to play in varying areas including economy, mining, transportation, and mapping. In August 2021, the Government of India introduced a policy to realise the ambitions of India’s emergence as a Global Drone Hub. The growing significance attached to drones could be understood from the report unveiled by the BIS Research, highlighting how the Global Drone Market accounts for $28 billion this year. While drones are gaining popularity in India, most of them and their components are currently imported. The government is taking various initiatives and measures within India to overcome such challenges by encouraging Indian Industries.

    Group Captain A. Karunakaran quoted a former American General Henry H. Arnold, who in the post-World War II era had predicted how the relevance of unmanned aircraft would overtake manned vehicles in the theatre of future war. He also explained how Unmanned Aircraft Systems have several nomenclatures such as Unmanned Aerial Systems, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV), and Drones across industries in the world. However, he chose UAVs as the focal point of his presentation. UAVs are powered aerial vehicles, lack crew, can be piloted or operated remotely, carry objects that are lethal or non-lethal. He also elaborated about Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs). They are also UAVs with Artificial Intelligence, greater maneuverability and greater self-protection capability.

    The speaker went on to delineate the history of the UAVs, beginning from the 18th century when Pilotless and Explosive-Laden Balloons came into the picture and were sent across territorial or maritime borders. He gave examples such as Austria using such devices against Italy, United States of America during its civil war in 1861 and Japan adopting a similar tactic in 1944 against the Americans. Kites were also relied upon as UAVs. During World War I &II radio-controlled target drones proved advantageous for anti-aircraft training purposes.

    Although the use of target drones continued in the post-WWII era, it did not replace the heavy reliance or the focus of research and development on manned vehicles. During the 1960s, when an American pilot, Gary Powers was shot down and captured by the Soviets, the emphasis began to be shifted toward the use of UAVs. Between the 1960s-2013, the conversion of manned to unmanned drones began to occur for undertaking dull, dirty and dangerous reconnaissance missions. Apart from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, UAVs can also be used in the form of armed UAVs. Some UAVs are designed to be destroyed after hitting the intended target (Kamikaze mode). Swarm Drones have achieved a lot of fame across the globe and are gaining importance for tactical purposes. Furthermore, a lot of countries have lately begun directing a lot of their research toward UCAVs. UAVs were extensively used in conflicts such as the Vietnam War, Yom Kippur War, Gulf War, Bekka Valley Operation, and the Balkans War.

    The debate surrounding UAVs took on a new role beginning from the Global War on Terror in 2001. USA used predator drones to eliminate individual targets and the most recent example is the attack on an IS-K target in August 2021 in Afghanistan by use of the MQ9 Reaper UAV. In 2020, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict also witnessed extensive use of kamikaze drones.

    Indian drones are subject to rules and regulations such as the Drone Rules- 2021 released in August 2021 by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Similarly, in the Defence arena the Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap (2013) was released with the modified version given in 2018. The different categories of civil drones include Nano drones, Micro drones, Small, Medium drones and are used for matters such as police patrol, agriculture, and medical supplies. The defence-based drones are classified as (High Altitude Long Endurance) HALE, (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) MALE, Tactical, VTOL, Micro/mini, and UCAV. The latter is used for locating terrorists and combat-based purposes.

    Group Captain Karunakaran spoke about the Chinese UAV Programme. He said it is also crucial to highlight how China has relied upon UAVs and built a robust aviation programme, beginning from 1950s. Government support, reliable infrastructure, quality education, research and development have collectively helped China in this domain. Collaboration and Joint Ventures with other countries and clandestine operations also aided China in its objectives. The three phases of China’s UAV programme include its Formative Phase (1949-1960), where Reverse Engineering of Soviet and American target drones gave huge momentum to their UAV Programme. The Chinese later converted manned aircraft to target drones. The second was the Consolidation Phase (1960-2001), where there were tie-ups with leading manufacturing companies to produce next-generation aircraft. Finally, the Exploratory Phase (since 2001) is where focus on enabling technology began. The organisational set-up headed by the Central Military Commission steered the UAV Programme as National Will. Aerospace Universities and the Aerospace Industries have supported the Chinese aviation programme and are instrumental in its reaching great heights. China has collaborated with other countries and hired individual experts, including those of Indian origin, to produce futuristic technology. Its aviation industry, having set up in 1950, has matured over the years. It has designed 40 and built 1500 types of UAVs. The origin of sub-parts procured by companies such as Boeing is often traced back to China. China has also procured the required technology through means of Deception, Espionage and Cyber-Attacks on American defence contractors to acquire Technologies.

    Focusing on Pakistanis UAV Programme, the speaker stated that its UAV programme emerged after the US embargo was proposed under the Pressler Amendment Act in 1990. It owes the development of its programme to PSUs and aid extended by the Chinese. The private sector also had a significant role to play in this process. Pakistan has gone for an indigenous setup of its UAV programme to encourage industries. Americans are hesitant to supply UAVs to Pakistan, lest they fall into the Chinese hands. Earlier, Pakistan had to start from scratch in defence manufacturing since most of the Ordnance factories were in India before Partition. After partition in 1947, the country focused on medium and small-sized UAVS due to economic constraints. They have been used in the border areas patrol and for Intelligence Service and Reconnaissance (ISR) role; aiding terrorists to push across the borders.

    While dwelling on the Indian UAV Programme, the speaker mentioned that India’s UAV indigenous development began at Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) around the year 2000. A number of UAVs were at varying stages of development. Meanwhile for strategic purposes India imported UAVs such as Harpy, Harop, Searcher, Heron UAVs. Purchase of armed MQ9 Reaper by India is in the pipeline. India has also gone for explosive-laden sky-striker drones, procuring them from Israel. India’s private sector is at a nascent stage. India’s progress in UAV development has certain challenges such as design and developmental challenges, technology denials by the Americans, lack of synergy between the government agencies and the private industry.

    The roadmap for India’s successful UAV programme will center on facets such as self-reliance (Made in India programme), instituting time-bound action plans, synergising civil-military aviation manufacturing, investment in research and development, supporting indigenous projects, acceptance of failure, excellence in aeronautics education, and formulation of next-generation aviation traffic management systems etc. Overall, the survey on Private Industries conducted by the speaker shows a positive outlook trajectory and brings out certain amendments that need to be brought about in policy.
    The Q/A session consisted of a discussion on varying facets including remarks and questions by the Director General Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, who referred to China making use of foreign experts to develop technologies, including through engagement with experts from Russia and Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He also highlighted how Indian experts have provided their expertise to China earlier and guidelines to curb such activities should be issued by the government to this effect and how the Sea Guardian drones have been acquired on lease from the Americans for the use of the Indian Navy. He raised questions about the future of the UAVs, primarily the loitering weapons, and if such weapons could be solar-powered for far-reaching endurance. His comment also highlighted one potential threat of the UAVs carrying human payload across borders. He emphasised that future airspace needs to be integrated with manned and unmanned aircraft, therefore traffic management will be a huge challenge.

    Dr. Cherian Samuel raised pertinent points about the rationale behind extending the Border Security Force (BSF) jurisdiction; DRDO potentially monopolising the UAV domain since the private initiatives have failed. Captain Anurag Bisen referred to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, where the drones proved to be a game-changer. He also questioned if we would follow a similar pathway that Americans have (transitioning more toward unmanned aerial vehicles) to mitigate the shortage of personnel. Since 2010, the U.S. has commissioned more unmanned systems vis-à-vis manned systems. Furthermore, he talked about the need for instituting international laws to govern this domain.

    Dr. Sanur Sharma had raised the issue of drone development, India’s current status, and Counter Drone Technology. Dr. Rajiv Nayan asked a question pertaining to the Armed Forces’ perspective regarding UAV-based challenges from Pakistan, China, and non-state actors, and underscored the role of academic institutions in studying this domain. The Deputy Director General, Major Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi emphasised that research on policy governing Unmanned Aircraft, Unmanned Ground Vehicles and Underwater Vehicles employability with International Law need to be carried out. He also referred to the policy paper circulated two months ago in this regard and encouraged the relevant Centre’s to produce a more in-depth study on the topic of discussion today.

    Report prepared by Ms. Saman Ayesha Kidwai, Research Analyst, Counter Terrorism Centre, MP-IDSA.