Military drones have been synonymous with drones like the Predator, Israel’s Heron drones, the Loyal Wingman, and China’s Wing Loong. However, India appears to gradually be catching up in the military drone race. While the country’s arsenal does not yet sport the Predator-like drones, the existing and upcoming Indian made military drones look promising. The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has been instrumental in leading the country’s UAV program for decades. Here’s a lineup of some of the primary military drones in use:
The DRDO Rustom-1 is one of the most popular Indian made military drones. The Rustom-1 was one of the first long-range drones developed and tested by the DRDO. The first prototype of the Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV was tested in 2009 which resulted in a crash. However, DRDO tested the drone again in 2010 which resulted in a successful maiden flight. As of now, the Rustom-1 has completed 65 flights.
|Maximum Range||200 km|
|Maximum Altitude||20,000 ft|
|Maximum Payload||~95 kg|
|Maximum Speed||~150 km/h|
The DRDO Nishant is a medium-range drone developed for the Indian Armed Forces. The Nishant drone is being used for reconnaissance, training, surveillance, target designation, artillery fire correction, etc. This drone requires a rail launch from a hydro-pneumatic launcher. For propulsion, the drone is equipped with a Wankel engine. A wheeled version of the Nishant drone called the Panchi is also in use.
|Endurance||4 hours 30 minutes|
|Maximum Range||100 km|
|Maximum Altitude||12,999 ft|
|Maximum Payload||~45 kg|
|Maximum Speed||~216 km/h|
3. Micro Drones
DRDO has deployed several micro drones for military use. Some of the most prominent micro drones include the Imperial Eagle, Slybird, Black Kite, Pushpak, and the Golden Hawk. These are fully autonomous air vehicles. An Image processing system provides the processed data in near real-time to take action on the available ISR information. These drones have an approximate range of 15 km with a speed of around 40 km/h. They are faster and easier to deploy than their long-range counterparts.
In 2020, DRDO launched the Bharat drones that will be used for surveilling the borders. “The drone is capable of providing real-time video feed as well as still images to its operators and its controlling software has built-in artificial intelligence tools for analysis and decision-making,” a senior DRDO scientist said. “Besides the armed forces, It also has the potential for being used by the Central Armed Police Forces and law enforcement agencies,” he added. Reportedly, the Bharat drone can go undetected under the enemy’s radar and even perform in adverse weather conditions.
As of now, the Rustom-2 drone and the DRDO Ghatak are two drones that are under development and testing. Apart from them, DRDO also uses autonomous pilotless torpedoes (such as the Lakshay-2) as target practice for aircraft. The military is also exploring the use of drone swarms. Presently, India uses Israel’s Heron drones for long-range operations. Talks are in progress for purchasing the Predator drone as well. It is reported that the Rustom-2 drone will be similar to the Predator drone and will have a service ceiling of 50,000 ft.