In a huge boost to indigenous armament programs, a team of two soldiers recently developed an armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for the Indian Army. The unmanned quadcopter, which was a long-pending requirement of the armed forces, had been previously deployed during live operations along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan and counter-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

It was displayed at the Army Technology Seminar in New Delhi on January 11, where modernisation efforts in land warfare formed the crux of the discourse.

The two soldiers who had developed the UAV back in 2015 belong to the 21 Sikh regiment. Sepoy Gurpreet Singh and Sepoy Amrik explained that the vehicle is capable of carrying out day and night surveillance and dropping grenades on targets. 

Why Is It Significant?

None of the defence services in India possess armed drones, making this a historic innovation in the history of the Indian Army. It further upholds the capability of indigenous developers to take this forward and upgrade the existing model to a more advanced version. Demonstrations of some models could be held next month, according to news reports. 

This arrives at a time when Army Chief General Vipin Rawat has been pushing for defence innovations by army personnel, and India increasing its arms imports by signing deals with the US, Russia and France to name a few. Although the US fast-tracked the supply of armed lethal predator drones last year, the Indian army has always been keener on indigenously developed armed UAVs, keeping in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make In India” program.

“It is very heartening to note that soldiers on the ground are coming up with innovative solutions either to improve the existing system or coming out with new systems that can be taken up by the industry for further development,” General Rawat said at the seminar. “88 such innovations have come up in the last one year. Out of which we have identified 60 of them to be discussed with the industry to move forward with them on further development,” he said.

“The entire system is one of the 15 ‘Make’ cases being analysed by the army. The army has found that the industry has the capability to make them. Some of these cases would soon be launched under the ‘Make 2’ route,” said sources.

How Does It Work?

Initially designed only for surveillance, the quadcopter was later modified to include the weapon system and was recently tested for dropping grenades. This forms half of what the army usually calls a seeker-shooter combat management system. It is based on the quadcopter functioning as the seeker to undertake surveillance, while a hexacopter carries the payload to engage the target.

Explaining how their invention works, Amrik told the Economic Times, “The quadcopter can lift three grenades or two kg of payload such as ammunition, IEDs and first aid. We manually control the UAV through a remote control. It can also be used automatically, wherein we feed the coordinates on the laptop and it navigates to the areas and drops the grenade after unpinning it. It also has day and night surveillance.” 

“All these ideas were given by our Commanding Officer Colonel Ashutosh Mehta. We had made a basic flying machine and he told us to use it for surveillance and weaponise it,” said Gurpreet. 

Advanced UAVs To Follow

The Army Design Bureau has long since requisitioned a seeker-shooter system involving a more advanced UAV, for use along the LoC and Line of Actual Control between India and China. Amrik and Gurpreet’s UAV fits the bill of being able to carry day and night surveillance and engaging with infiltrating terrorists by dropping grenades and IEDs.

But as of now, it is unable to “loiter”, a feature that makes UAVs more capable of accurately throwing grenades and fire ammunition through loopholes in bunkers and windows.

Buoyed by territorial threats on all corners, India has risen to become the world’s biggest arms importer. Policymakers and defence personnel justify harbouring a costlier and deadlier arsenal, citing these security concerns, but activists have often questioned if the country can afford such weapons at a time when poverty is on the rise. By making higher grade weapons instead of sourcing them from external buyers, the centre will also be able to avoid overpriced defence deals like Rafale.