Thursday, May 6, 2021

How Good Is Indian Swarm Drone Technology In Comparison To China?

If China can showcase its swarm drone technology, can India be far behind? The Indian Army recently displayed its swarm drone capability as part of its ‘niche technology initiative’ recently.

On the occasion of 73rd Army Day on January 15, the Indian Army demonstrated its drone capability, including ‘Kamikaze’ attacks and strikes using a ‘mother ship’.

In the first-ever demonstration, 75 drones, including quadcopters and bigger hexacopters, were launched from varying heights. These fully autonomous drones could reach 50 kilometers inside enemy territory, and carry out missions targeting the pre-designated hostile assets.

The drones were made in collaboration with a Bengaluru-based start-up. What they showed was ‘just a fraction of the capabilities’ they have actually brought to the service.

However, proper assimilation of the new technologies and developing own tactics would take time. While drones are already being used for surveillance along the border and in counter-terror operations, the drones displayed during the Army Day parade are highly sophisticated, autonomous and armed UAVs.

In September, China successfully tested its “swarm” drone technology. As reported by The EurAsian Times, the test demonstrated the ability of the whole process such as the rapid deployment of vehicles, intensive launching, hovering and launching in the air, precise formation, formation change, ground inspection and attack, and precision strike.

Combat Roles

According to military experts, this new technology could be battle-tested in hunter-killer roles against targets hiding deep inside the woods in Kashmir, as well as terrorist hideouts in urban areas.

During the display, 13 targets, symbolizing hostile armor, mortar positions, troop concentrations, fuel dumps, radar sites, terror hideout, and helipad, were struck. The drones are synchronized with satellite feeds and area correlation technologies.

The bigger hexacopters, called the ‘motherships’, launched ‘child drones’ which oriented and aligned themselves according to the target designations, and optimized target trajectory according to artificial intelligence algorithms onboard flight computers.

The ‘child drones,’ carrying explosives, then crashed into the target, destroying themselves and the enemy asset – in a typical ‘Kamikaze’ strike.

Before the child drones commenced the targeting sequence, another team of drones entered the airspace and carried out confirmatory reconnaissance using raster scans, and assigned the targets to individual drones to execute pre-programmed offensive missions.

In addition, the payloads carried by these drones are also customizable in reference to the target profile.

Last year, the Indian Air Force tested its swarm drone capability for the first time, showing at least 15 hexacopters flying in a coordinated manner from an airbase. However, the images were blurred- whether the blurring is done intentionally is not known, but experts had stated that this could be to hide the characteristics and the manufacturing company of these drones.

Why Swarm Drones?

Drone swarm is a concept where a large cluster (or many clusters) of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is flown together in contested or hostile airspace, to confuse the radar with a much bigger image of the actual target and achieve their assigned objective, or other specific missions like surgical strikes or supporting tactical operations.

These drones (or robots) work in tandem with each other and are either remote-controlled or they operate autonomously with the help of onboard processors.

They could be effectively used in the suppression of enemy air defenses/ destruction of enemy air defenses (SEAD/DEAD) roles, by giving a distorted image of bogeys on the radar, detecting the enemy radar sites, and relaying that information to their operators.

If these drones are armed, they can be used as kamikaze or strike roles, hitting the enemy air defense sites or other critical infrastructural assets.

China has already made rapid advancements in swarm drone technology. Last year, the country released a video of a truck-mounted system launching a barrage of swarms. It was the first practical use of such a system on this scale anywhere in the world.

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