The Army is looking to induct a large number of officers as observer pilots for its expanding Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) fleet, which is currently under its Aviation Corps.

As per defence sources, the idea is to induct and create a pool of qualified pilots—both men and women—considering plans for expansion of the Army’s RPAS fleet.

Towards this, the Directorate General of Army Aviation has sought to induct volunteer officers into the RPAS stream from all arms. Earlier, the fleet was under the Regiment of Artillery.

A defence source told News18 that select officers who volunteer to join the force’s RPAS fleet as observer pilots will undergo basic RPAS course at the Combat Army Aviation Training School at Nashik and once they complete the training, they would be posted to the RPAS fleet of Army Aviation for two tenures. The next course begins on June 24.

As per the Indian Army website, the Combat Army Aviation Training School is the alma mater of all Aviators and RPAS crew of Army Aviation and provides combat flying and ground training to all Aviators of Indian Army.

Only non-empanelled officers of all arms who meet all medical fitness criteria would be eligible to join as observer pilots.

For instance, Lieutenant Colonels in the Indian Army, who have not been empanelled as Colonels would be fairly experienced and young to take on this new role with 14 to 15 years of service, the sources said.

“To maintain a healthy cadre strength, non-empanelled officers are currently being considered for the post of observer pilots, so that it doesn’t impinge on the career growth of officers in their own arm or service,” a defence source explained.

Once trained, the officers will need to gather experience before becoming proficient with managing these complex systems. As the RPAS stream matures into an independent arm in the future, more officers would be directly commissioned into or brought in from other arms and services as pilots and in support roles.

With the induction of new drones of various formats in pipeline such as armed, surveillance and short range tactical drones, the RPAS fleet is expected to be a major force multiplier for the Army in futuristic battle scenarios.

Surveillance drones have been playing a critical role in India’s border management by providing continuous real-time information from the borders and they are being extensively used along the Line of Control facing Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. They are also extensively deployed at the Line of Actual Control in the northern and eastern borders amid a continuing military standoff with China.

New drones to be procured for the Indian defence forces include Israeli Heron-TP drones, a large number of indigenous drones for surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as loitering munitions. There were also plans to buy 30 predator armed drones from the United States, but they have not progressed as yet.