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Indigenous man-portable UAVs

Amardeep Singh

Amardeep Singh
VP, Marketing and Operations,
Unmanned Systems, ideaForge Technology Pvt. Ltd.
[email protected]

<< India is a booming market for UAVs, for it faces both internal and external threats >>

For some time now, there has been a word going around in UAV domain about India being a big market for UAVs in coming years. Be it due to the internal problems of infiltrators/ naxals, terrorist attacks that have taken place in the past few years, need for modernisation of forces or the beginning of the acceptance of technology; one thing is certain that man-portable UAVs are going to be an integral part of the toolkit of Indian defence forces. The increasing activity in this market can be validated by the fact that several indigenous companies have sprung up and many other established international companies are collaborating with Indian companies and setting up their base in the country to manufacture and market UAVs.

Although large-size UAVs have been procured by the armed forces, there has been no procurement of man-portable UAVs, which are an essential requirement for homeland security and for real-time information in the tactical battle area.

One of the most critical applications that is envisaged in India currently is to deploy them in forest areas during night hours when majority of the naxal or other suspicious movement happens. Fixed wing configuration UAVs require a good amount of clear area for take-off and landing. A forest area limits the operation of such aerial vehicles. Some engine based vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAVs have also proved ineffective in performing covert operation which is very critical to the above mentioned scenarios, owing to the high noise levels.

UAV market is still in its infancy in India and hence there is a need for customer education. There are several organisations where a UAV can play the role of a force multiplier and help increase efficiency and reduce risk. In August this year, Indian Army’s Northern Command floated a tender for 20 micro UAVs and 20 mini UAVs. Indian Air Force had floated its RFI for micro-UAVs last year and is expected to release an RFP soon. Also, Indian Army has indicated its interest in mini-UAV class and an RFP is expected shortly. The number is rumoured to be in hundreds.

ideaForge Technology Pvt. Ltd., in collaboration with DRDO, has developed a man-portable UAV, Netra, specifically designed keeping Indian conditions in mind. The company has spent several years developing this UAV while interacting with potential users. It has undergone several rounds of improvement based on user feedback and currently stands at a field usable level ready to provide tactical information on demand to the ground troops. Netra is a completely autonomous hovering UAV ideal for short range missions. It requires a very short training time owing to its advanced autopilot system which takes care of the flight and navigation part. Its intuitive point and click graphical user interface requires minimal user assistance allowing the user to concentrate on the mission objective rather than the flying of the vehicle.

Several fail-safe modes have been incorporated in the system which get triggered on specific conditions and brings the UAV back home safely:

Low battery fail-safe: In case of battery going down while the UAV is still in-flight, the autopilot calculates its distance from the home position and commands it to initiate the landing sequence at the home position.

Communication loss fail-safe: In case the communication between the ground control station and the UAV is lost, it waits for some time to regain it and then triggers the return home sequence.

The complete system can be packed into a small box and carried and operated by a single person. It can be deployed within a few minutes enabling quick emergency response. It has a VTOL system and hence can be deployed from confined spaces like roof-tops in urban areas and small patches of clear area in forests. This greatly reduces the limitation that fixed wing UAVs suffer – the inability to be operated from anywhere on the ground.

Moreover, since it is to be operated by ground troops, it has been made very intuitive and simple to use. Any person comfortable with using computers can fly the system efficiently after a week’s training programme. The ground control software provides the fl exibility of integrating satellite imagery or any geo-referenced maps for aiding the user in using GPS waypoint navigation. In case of unavailability of maps, the UAV can still operate with full functionality.

In its normal mode of operation, the user just needs to mark points of interest over the map available in the ground control software; double-clicking a point will command the aircraft to move towards that point. All this while, the current position of the aircraft, the corresponding area being viewed in video and several other parameters will be overlaid on the map. This will give the user an intuitive sense of situational awareness.

It is an electric powered system and is practically noiseless when flying 100m high and 100m away thus enabling a covert operation by the forces. This is a huge advantage for forces since they can ‘Hover & Stare’ at the target while having low noise and low visual signature. The system is also provided with an option of thermal camera which permits users to operate UAV during night which is usually a more critical time for the forces to observe the activities of its adversaries.

Applications of man-portable UAVs
In forest areas, the aim is to generate real-time intelligence information for immediate action for a platoon engaged in ground combat. Deployment of UAV provides a bird’s eye view of the battlefield to the commander who can move his troops more quickly and confidently -being aware of the position and movements of his enemy.

This power with commanders and soldiers to understand the operation area geographically as well as tactically before making any physical contact, enables them to take decisive actions with more accuracy and lethality. While reducing the amount of risk and effort, it also conserves energy and time of troops by providing advance reconnaissance and eliminating the element of surprise.

Border areas of importance and areas of political instability find another important application in keeping a check on changes in terrain due to natural or human activity. This may include monitoring construction of bridges, bunkers, camps, dams etc. by the enemy. While the satellite imagery available to troops is updated after long intervals of time, UAV can provide such critical information on a daily basis. Time being the prime differentiating factor, this is a huge improvement over any of the other geographical information systems available currently. In urban areas it acts as a great emergency response tool. Be it crowd management, event monitoring, VIP security, disaster management, traffic monitoring or local law enforcement; man-portable UAVs can significantly increase the real-time tactical information which is important for taking quick decisions to keep situation under control. The system records the video footage of complete mission which can later be analysed or used as evidence.

All said, we are yet to see manportable UAVs in action with our forces in India but we sincerely hope that they soon get equipped with powerful technology tools such as these and save precious lives.

(ideaForge is working in close collaboration with DRDO for the development of a backpackable Ground Control Station which would allow the user to operate UAV even while moving.)