New Delhi: Enthused by the performance of indigenous high-altitude tactical drones procured last year to keep an eye on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, the Army has placed a fresh order for an advanced version with its manufacturer, an Indian start-up.

Sources in the defence and security establishment said that a fresh contract was signed recently with ideaForge for the advanced version — with higher endurance and additional technical features — of SWITCH tactical drones that are being used by Army’s special forces and infantry.

The sources said that delivery of the entire set of drones, meant for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), ordered from the Mumbai-based firm in January last year, has been completed and is being extensively used in Ladakh, where India and China are in a military stand-off since May 2020.

They described it as a “force multiplier technology” and pointed out that instead of soldiers physically being out in the bitter cold, patrolling every single point, the drones will be the eyes on the ground.

Besides tactical drones, the Army has also increased surveillance all along the LAC by bringing in larger Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), like the regular Israeli Heron and a set of four advanced Heron 2, procured last year.

The Indian military is also carrying out surveillance through satellites and using specialised aircraft, like the P8i of the Indian Navy.

‘Testament of SWITCH’s Class-Leading Capabilities’

However, it was for the first time last year that the Army had inducted specialised indigenous drones for surveillance.

The Mumbai based ideaForge had won the contract last year following a competition with Israel’s top UAV manufacturer Elbit, besides the Tata Group, Dynamatic Technologies Ltd and VTOL Aviation.

The sources remained tight-lipped about the value of the new contract or the number of drones ordered. The 2021 contract was valued at about $20 million (around Rs 140 crores) and was the first high-value drone contract received by an Indian firm.

Reached out, ideaForge CEO, Ankit Mehta confirmed the new order and said it is “a testament of the class-leading capabilities of SWITCH 1.0, exhibited not only during the product trials against a dozen global players, but also in the operational environment”.

Asked about the delivery schedule, he said the additional order will be within set timelines as well.

“We are thrilled by the Impact Created by SWITCH UAVs in serving our nation and maintaining the sovereignty of Indian territory,” he said.

In November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had formally handed over SWITCH UAVs to the Indian Army.

Long-Range Target Detection, HD Optical Zoom Payload

The standard man portable SWITCH weighs 6.5 kgs and is capable of vertical take-off, like a helicopter, with an endurance of two hours, even in high altitudes with low temperatures, high winds and low density of air.

The drone can be carried on the back of a soldier and deployed. It is capable of carrying out surveillance up to 15 kms, can be launched from altitudes of 4,000 metres, and has a maximum operating altitude of 1,000 metres with a wind resistance of up to 10.8 knots or 20 km per hour.

The new drones ordered by the Army are an advanced version, with extended endurance and cover 700 sq km from each take-off point. It also comes with encrypted communication and long-range target detection, with an HD optical zoom payload.