By Ashish Rajvanshi
Assigning the manufacture of a drone detection system to a private Indian company created by state-run entities is a watershed moment in a collaborative first step toward defense indigenization. Notably, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s April 7 transfer of technology (ToT) documents followed the MoD’s 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 defense indigenization is being pursued.
From a purely technological and doctrinal standpoint, the armed forces should investigate incorporating counter-drone technologies into a larger highly networked, ‘intelligent,’ and ‘informationized’ environment — techniques that prospective adversaries deploy. Counter drone systems might also be airborne on other drones, or they could be fused with bigger Airborne Early Warning (AEW) planes and other ground-based Counter-UAV devices.
Webbed into a larger and denser network that connects ground, sea-based, airborne, space, and individual warriors, C-UAVs can evolve from isolated platforms to be a part of a larger configuration that improves situational awareness for both frontline combatants and military decision-makers.
With a new operational concept fueled by emerging technologies (AI, Machine Learning, Big Data, Quantum Computing, and Quantum Communications), the government should now assess the relevance of emerging techno-military doctrines to India. Simultaneous development of other pertinent technologies, such as Directed Energy Weapons (DEW), should be continued, and standardized to be interoperable with other C-UAVs.
Depending on the battlefield requirements and doctrines, C-UAVs can also deploy ‘hard-kill’ alternatives such as missiles and guns, either as part of the system or by directing fire to other batteries or ground-based troops. However, arming all troops with such portable and easy-to-deploy equipment is critical, as battlefield drones of all sizes are expected to be deployed in almost every scenario. India is developing Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) comprised of armor, infantry, artillery, mechanized infantry, combat engineers, signals, and air defense units, each of which will be equipped with C-UAVs of various sizes.
Adversaries attack not only combat formations, but also support and combat support units in order to erode the military’s total fighting power, particularly during big force-on-force encounters. And, while missiles and guns are effective against larger armed drones, improved soft-kill options such as radio frequency (RF) jamming, spoofing, and perhaps hacking are just as powerful. It is the ability of a country to construct non-kinetic hard and soft-kill systems that are commensurate with its industrial and technical growth. Additionally, because cyber and space warfare is poised to be the future frontiers of warfare, building electronics and electronic hardware manufacturing capabilities for soft-kill systems is critical and should be a higher priority under the government’s ‘Aatmanirbharta’ objective.
For example, millimeter microwave radars (MMR) are reported to be useful against smaller swarm drones because of their ability to emit radio waves at short wavelengths. China recently demonstrated vehicle-mounted box-launched swarm drones that, once in the air in a group of dozens, deploy wings and collaborate to execute a variety of functions.
They can overwhelm an air defense system or a ground formation that draws their fire, act as loitering munitions to take out well-defended targets, and provide mass air surveillance capability by acting as a smaller part of the company’s Communications Coordination Command Control Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) network, providing enhanced situational awareness. This is consistent with China’s philosophies of ‘informationized’ and ‘intelligentized’ combat.
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The options are limitless, and the ability to eliminate well-connected small swarm drones is also constrained. This is where non-kinetic mechanisms of hard and soft killing come into play. India should consequently establish an industrial base capable of manufacturing high-tech gadgets such as strong lasers, RF jammers, MMR, and microwave weapons capable of simultaneously disabling swarm drones.
While this is true only for counter-drone systems, India’s drone manufacturing capability can be expanded. While India manufactures structures such as arms, upper and lower sidings, fixed/retractable landing gears, internal support, and payload carriers, propellers and motors are predominantly supplied from China, Taiwan, and Germany. India also falls behind in terms of electronics and avionics systems such as speed controllers, GPS modules, power distribution boards, signal receivers, flight controllers, telemetry modules, communication devices, and GPS hardware used in drone and counter-drone systems.
Our ability to design and develop our own electro-optical infrared/thermal systems, synthetic aperture radars and medium-powered radars leaves much to be desired. Promoting MSMEs that design and manufacture these products can also result in significant economic rewards. The Indian Army intends to induct UAVs down to battalion level during the next 15 years, while the Indian Air Force hopes to have at least six 18-fleet squadrons of armed and unarmed UAVs. With an anticipated 100 Requests for Information/Requests for Proposals (RFI/RFP) every year, producing these advanced electronics in-house cuts imports, with India potentially becoming their supplier to the very countries from which we purchase them!
To summarize, India must first develop a fundamental scholarly knowledge of how counter-drone and drone systems fit into the broader context of new technology, military conceptions, industrial capabilities, and adversary nation capabilities. This should be a collaborative endeavor involving the government, the private sector, and academia.
Second, defense indigenization should not be viewed in isolation but as part of a greater goal of industrialization, with high-tech and electronics industries leading the way. Drones and counter-drone systems rely on these very systems, and an integrated strategy naturally synergizes efforts by all stakeholders, resulting in Comprehensive National Power and a ‘whole-of-nation’ approach capable of overcoming any hardship.
Source: Financial Express