BEL is trying to gain a piece of the battlefield drone pie

A new drone being developed by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) could help prevent a Pathankot-style attack.

In the 2016 attack, at least six heavily armed militants dressed in Indian Army uniforms had breached the outer fence of Air Station Pathankot, Punjab, potentially crossing over using eucalyptus trees growing alongside the fence while exploiting faulty floodlights in that part of the perimeter. They had possibly then used elephant grass inside the airfield to mask their approach.

BEL’s answer is the Tethered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, a 9-kg unmanned drone that can loiter in a fixed position above airfields and army bases, providing 360-degree surveillance capability.

“The drone is ‘tethered’ to the ground by a cable which also supplies it with power from a battery,” a BEL source said.

At the heart of the machine is its camera equipment: one a CCD video camera with a range of two kilometres in daylight plus an EO/IR (Electro-Optical/Infra-Red thermal camera with a range of 600 metres.

“The machine can loiter above the base for six hours are a stretch. The rotors tend to overheat after six hours and must be cooled for an hour,” the source said.

A second BEL source specified that an airfield the size of Yelahanka Air Force station, for example, would need between two to three drones operating in shifts to ensure continuous surveillance capabilities. “Development of this project began six months ago and demonstrations have been made for the army and air force. Interest has been shown,” the source said.

“The deployment of these drones could prevent a future Pathankot-style attack because they would be constantly surveilling the military bases around the clock,” the source added.

BEL Eyeing Drone Pie

The genesis of this project, plus the development of a frontline drone (called the Hexacopter-20), shows that BEL is trying to gain a piece of the battlefield drone pie. One officer said that one advantage of their drones is that all systems and components are wholly made in India.

“We are eyeing the drone market in a big way and we are collaborating with the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) in development,” a BEL officer said.

The Hexacopter-20 is a 20-kg UAV with a two-stroke internal combustion engine that can fly for 3.5 hours with a payload of two kgs. A payload could include medical kits. This drone, which can carry out recon and search and air rescue activities has a camera with a peak range of 600 metres. It also has swarming capability, which is being developed in conjunction with a Bangalore-based start-up.

The defence PSU is also planning a mega-display with a hundred different kinds of drones operating in concert with each other.