The two-day UV India 2011 seminar-cum-expo, which got underway on October 13 at the Manekshaw Centre in New Delhi, provided the perfect venue for gaining insights into UAV-related activities and future force modernisation plans of India’s three armed services. Interestingly, this time around, the number of trade visitors hailing from the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF), National Security Guards, and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) far outnumbered those hailing from the three armed services, and the maximum number of procurement-related queries too came from such CAPFs. What follows below is a run-down of the highlights of the seminar and expo.
· The DRDO is promising to deliver to the Indian Army an all-singing-and-dancing version of the Rustom-1 MALE-UAV—equipped with a belly-mounted optronic payload--by 2014. Also to be delivered by then will be a version of the Nishant tactical UAV equipped with a belly-mounted optronic payload and a wheeled undercarriage. The DRDO is focussing all its UAV-related R & D efforts on the Rustom-1, and those for the Rustom-2 MALE-UAV are not being accorded any importance at this stage.
· The NTRO is steadily expanding its inventory of UAVs, with several Searcher Mk2 MALE-UAVs (equipped with optronic payloads) already operational as of now. Future plans call for the procurement of several Hermes-90 tactical UAVs.
· A customised version of the hand-launched Skylark-1LE—jointly developed by HAL and ELBIT Systems—has now been certified for operating at an altitude of 18,600 feet ASL, and first deliveries will be made to both the Indian Army and the ITBP. CAPFs like the CRPF and BSF too are expected to place large orders for both the Skylark-1LE and Hermes-90 UAVs.
· The Indian Navy’s fleet of Heron-1 MALE-UAVs come equipped with three types of ELTA Systems-built mission payloads: the EL/M-2022U maritime search radar and MSOP optronic turret, plus a communications system capable of acting as a repeater station for relaying imagery-related data over-the-horizon to another Heron-1 UAV which, in turn, relays such data to a principal surface combatant deployed in the high seas. The Heron-1s of the Indian Army and Indian Air Force, on the other hand, come equipped with the MSOP optronic turret and the EL/M-2055D SAR/GMTI sensor. Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) two subsidiaries--ELTA Systems and MALAT Division—have now developed the EL/M-2054 SAR/GMTI payload for all-weather, air-to-surface Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) applications. It features modular, open architecture and can be easily configured into smaller tactical UAVs like the Nishant’s wheeled variant.
· The Indian Navy has officially rejected the shipborne NRUAV project, which was first proposed in 2005 by HAL and IAI. Instead, the operational requirement has now been elevated to that for a shipborne UCAV, following which attention is being paid to the Northrop Grumman-built Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing system.
· Even though there are several private-sector SMEs that have developed mini-UAVs for use by central- and state-level law enforcement agencies, such solutions cannot be inducted into service since the Union Home Ministry, the MoD and the Ministry of Civil Aviation (all non-armed forces UAV users are mandatorily required to secure operating airspace clearances from this ministry) have yet to sit down together to evolve a clear-cut policy regarding their procurement and usage. Needless to say, the above-mentioned ministries are always hell-bent on being biased in favour of only those solutions that are put forth by the DPSUs (like HAL and BEL). This in turn has pissed off several CAPFs since they require such tactical UAVs in not only far larger numbers than those for the armed forces, but also as soon as possible from any available source.—Prasun K. Sengupta