Assigning the production of a drone detection system to a private Indian company designed by state-run entities is a watershed moment in a collaborative first move toward defence indigenization. The handing out of Transfer-of-Technology (ToT) paperwork by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on April 7 followed the Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) third list of 100 products to be procured/developed/manufactured domestically rather than through imports. This demonstrates the seriousness with which the drive to achieve defence indigenization is being taken.
From a purely technological and doctrinal standpoint, the military should now contemplate incorporating counter-drone systems as part of a larger highly networked, ‘intelligenized,’ and ‘informationized’ environment– methods that prospective enemies are employing.
Counter-drone systems could also be carried by other drones, acting as smaller Airborne Early Warning (AEW) systems linked to bigger AEW aircraft and ground-based counter-UAV platforms.
C-UAVs can evolve from isolated platforms to be a part of a broader configuration that improves situational awareness for both frontline soldiers and military decision makers when they are webbed into a wider and dense network integrating ground, sea-based, aerial, space, and individual combatants.
With a new operational concept fueled by new technologies (AI, Machine Learning, Big Data, Quantum Computing, and Quantum Communications), the government should now assess if the new techno-military doctrines are applicable to India.
Other important technologies, such as Directed Energy Weapons (DEW), should be developed concurrently and standardised to be compatible with other C-UAVs.
The C-UAVs can also deploy ‘hard-kill’ alternatives like missiles and cannons as part of the system or instruct other batteries or ground-based troops to fire, depending on the battlefield needs and doctrines. However, arming all forces with such portable and easy-to-deploy equipment is critical, as battlefield drones of all sizes are expected to be deployed in practically any situation.
India is forming Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) that will include mixed armour, infantry, artillery, mechanised infantry, combat engineers, signals, and air defence units, with C-UAVs of varying sizes deployed with each arm.
In order to diminish overall military fighting capabilities, adversaries target not just fighting formations but also support and combat support units, particularly during big force-on-force encounters. While missiles and weapons can take down larger armed drones, modern soft-kill methods such as RF jamming, spoofing, and possibly hacking are just as powerful. It is a country’s ability to construct non-kinetic hard and soft-kill systems that represent the country’s industrial and technical progress.
Developing electronics and electronic hardware manufacturing capability that go into soft-kill systems is vital and should be a major focus under the government’s ‘Aatmanirbharta’ goal, as cyber and space warfare are poised to be the next battlefield frontiers.
Millimetre microwave radars (MMR), for example, are considered to be effective against smaller swarm drones since they broadcast radio waves at short wavelengths. China has tested vehicle-mounted box-launched swarm drones that, once in the air in a swarm of dozens, deploy wings and collaborate to execute a variety of tasks.
They can overload an air defence system or a ground formation drawing their fire, operate as loitering munitions to take out well-defended targets, give mass air surveillance capability, and act as a smaller portion of the C4ISR network to provide better situational awareness. This is consistent with China’s philosophies of ‘informationized’ and ‘intelligent’ warfare.
The options are unlimited, but the ability to take out well-connected small swarm drones is restricted. Non-kinetic hard and soft kill techniques are useful in this situation. As a result, India should establish an industry competence to produce high-tech devices such as powerful lasers, RF jammers, MMR, and microwave weapons that can disable swarm drones simultaneously.
While this only applies to anti-drone systems, India’s drone manufacturing capability can be improved. While India manufactures structures such as arms, upper and lower sidings, fixed/retractable landing gears, internal support, and payload carriers, propellers and motors are mostly supplied from China, Taiwan, and Germany.
India also lags behind in electronic and avionics systems such as speed controllers, GPS modules, power distribution boards, signals receivers, flight controllers, telemetry modules, communication devices, and GPS hardware, all of which are used in drone and counter-drone systems.
Our ability to develop our own Electro-Optical IR/Thermal systems, Synthetic Aperture Radars, and Medium Powered Radars is lacking. Promoting MSMEs that develop and manufacture these can also result in significant economic gains. The Indian Army wants to induct UAVs down to battalion level during the next 15 years, while the Indian Air Force wants to establish at least six 18-fleet squadrons of both armed and unarmed UAVs.
With an anticipated 100 Requests for Information/Requests for Proposal (RFI/RFP) every year, producing modern electronics in-house cuts imports, with India potentially becoming their supplier to the very countries we buy them from!
To summarise, India must first develop a fundamental scholarly knowledge of where counter-drone and drone systems fit into the greater picture of evolving technology, military conceptions, industrial capabilities, and opponent nation capabilities. The government, services, industry, and academia should all work together on this.
Second, defence indigenization should be viewed as part of a larger goal of becoming more industrially sophisticated, with hi-tech and electronics industry leading the way.
These systems are used by drones and counter-drone systems, and having an integrated strategy naturally synergizes efforts by all stakeholders, resulting in Comprehensive National Power and a “whole of nation” approach that can survive any hardship.
Ashish Rajvanshi spearheads the Adani Group’s philosophy of growth with sustainability to work towards creating a 100 years organization. Currently, he is the President & CEO of Adani Defence & Aerospace. He is passionate about setting up an ecosystem of indigenous capabilities in defence and aerospace within the country, nurturing the MSMEs through inclusive growth, and creating a vibrant skill base to help India become self-reliant in its defence and security requirements.
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