DRDO displays drone swarm in offensive role


The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on Wednesday showcased an indigenous capability in Jhansi to carry out offensive missions in enemy territory with scores of drones working in assorted formations to identify, encircle and strike targets, with the loitering munitions being developed to meet a key military requirement and keep soldiers out of harm’s way, officials familiar with the development said.

Surveillance and armed drone swarm figure on a new list of Make in India projects that the army plans to pursue in partnership with the industry. Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane released the list last week while rooting for self-reliance in the defence sector and stressing that indigenous technology was key to victory in wars. The Indian Air Force is also fully backing the indigenous development of swarm drone technologies.

The DRDO’s Young Scientist Laboratory for Asymmetric Technologies is working on swarm technologies to strengthen the country’s military capabilities, the DRDO said in a statement. “DRDO demonstrated a fully operational decentralised swarm of 25 drones flying with minimal human intervention,” it said.

The capability demonstration came on the opening day of a three-day defence function in Jhansi linked to the ongoing country-wide celebrations to mark the 75th year of independence.

The event seeks to highlight the government’s focus on achieving self-reliance in the defence sector, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to hand over locally produced military hardware, including the light combat helicopter, drones and electronic warfare systems, to the armed forces on November 19.

The drone swarm showcased capabilities related to distributive sensing, decision making, reconfigurable path planning and autonomous attack, DRDO officials said, adding that swarm algorithms have advanced features for niche and distinctive capabilities.

Unmanned systems are best for “dull, dirty and dangerous missions” that a military may be required to carry out, said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), who heads the Centre for Air Power Studies.

“Reconnaissance for long hours can be dull, exposure to nuclear contaminated zones can be dirty and areas with heavy enemy defences are dangerous. Drone swarms allow you to overwhelm the enemy’s sensors and weapons and hit multiple targets,” Chopra added.

The Indian Army carried out a drone swarm technology demonstration at the Army Day-2021 parade in Delhi on January 15, with 75 locally designed and developed drones buzzing in the skies and simulating a raft of missions including offensive operations.

Drones within a swarm can carry out a wide range of missions including strikes against tanks, infantry combat vehicles, ammunition holding areas, fuel dumps and terror launch pads, officials have said.

The technology demonstrated on January 15 is being developed by the army in partnership with a Bengaluru-based start-up New Space Research and Technologies, with the autonomous drones capable of sneaking 50 km into enemy territory and striking targets with high-impact warheads. The drones can strike targets at a range of 100 km in a self-destructive assault.

India is investing heavily into artificial intelligence, autonomous weapon systems, quantum technologies and robotics for a convergence between its war-fighting philosophies and military attributes of these technologies, the army previously said.

The government is encouraging self-reliance is the defence manufacturing sector through several policy decisions including increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) limit from 49% to 74%, notifying 209 defence items that cannot be imported and creating a separate budget for buying locally-made military hardware.

India has signed contracts and cleared projects worth almost 62,000 crore in the last two months to boost military capability with locally produced weapons and systems including transport planes, tanks, helicopters, airborne early warning systems and counter-drone weapons.

India has set aside 70,221 crore this year for domestic defence procurement, accounting for 63% of the military’s capital budget. Last year, the ministry spent over 51,000 crore, or 58% of the capital budget, on domestic purchases.

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