NEW DELHI: The Army is slowly but steadily stepping-up the induction of explosive-armed drones. As it gears up to soon induct the first batch of 'Loitering Munitions’ or Kamikaze Drones, the force on Wednesday also kicked off the acquisition process for 12 sets of armed drone swarms.

Seven of these 12 Autonomous Surveillance and Armed Drone Swarms (A-SADS), each with 50-75 artificial intelligence-enabled aerial vehicles capable of communicating with control stations as well as among themselves, are meant for high-altitude areas.

“They will boost the Army’s `shock and awe’ capabilities along the northern borders with China. Explosive-armed drone swarms have proved their sheer utility and lethality in recent conflicts ranging from Armenia-Azerbaijan to Russia-Ukraine,” a senior official said.

The other five drone swarms are for defensive and offensive operations in desert areas and plains along the borders with Pakistan. “All the 12 sets of swarm drones will be acquired through the Buy-Indian IDDM (indigenously designed, developed and manufactured) category at an estimated cost of Rs 700 crore,” he added.

The request for information (RFI) issued for the A-SADS on Wednesday specified they will be procured under the Buy-Indian IDDM (indigenously designed, developed and manufactured) category, and should have an indigenous content of at least 50%.

The RFI said the drone swarms for deserts should have an operating range of at least 50-km one-way, with an endurance of minimum three hours. The high-altitude ones, in turn, should have a 30-km range and two-hour endurance, with the capability to even operate in minus 20 degree Celsius.

The A-SADS will carry explosive payloads for anti-personnel as well as “shaped charge top-attack ammunition” for use against enemy tanks and armoured columns.

“The drone swarms, which should be capable of vertical take-off and landing from unprepared areas, should be able to carry out Kamikaze kinetic attacks on targets like tanks, helipads, air defence equipment, radars, fuel dumps and command-and-control centres,” another officer said.

The use of drone swarms, robotics, lasers, loitering munitions and LAWS (lethal autonomous weapon systems) are relatively new domains of war-fighting for the Indian armed forces.

“China is far ahead in these fields. But a beginning has to be made. A group of drones operating in conjunction with ground manoeuvre forces can provide aerial capability to enhance combat effectiveness,” he added.

AI-based swarming algorithms enable the drones to automatically distribute the tasks among themselves, navigate to the area of interest, ensure collision avoidance during movement to the target area, and carry out search of the area.

“AI-based automatic target recognition (ATR) feature enables the drones to recognise targets like tanks, artillery guns, vehicles and soldiers and display it on control station screens. This minimizes chances of the operator missing any target as well as facilitates use of some other weapon to destroy the targets,” he said.