Each year, the Indian Army celebrates 15th January as the ‘Army Day’, and this year it surprised the world with the demonstration of new ‘Swarm Drones’, shown during the annual parade at Cariappa Parade Ground, Delhi.
This was the first time when such a capability (of using swarm drone tactics) was shown by the Indian Army, including kamikaze attacks and using a ‘mother ship’ to carry own complement of drones to carry out the strikes.
In the demonstration, 75 drones- including quadcopters and bigger hexacopters, were launched from varying heights. Notably, these drones were stated to be fully autonomous and could reach 50 kilometres inside enemy territory, and carry out missions targeting the pre-designated hostile assets.
The drones were made in conjunction with the Indian Army by a Bengaluru-based startup firm, and was said to be ‘just a fraction of the capabilities’ these drones have brought to the service. However, proper assimilation of the new technologies and developing own tactics takes time and patience. While drones are not very new to the Indian Army and are already being used for surveillance around the Line of Control and in CT (Counter-Terror) operations, these are highly sophisticated autonomous and armed UAVs. According to military experts, this new technology could be battle-tested in Kashmir in Hunter-Killer roles against targets hiding deep inside the woods, and encounter sites against well dug-in terrorist hideouts in urban areas.
During the display, 13 targets, symbolising hostile armour, mortar positions, troop concentrations, fuel dumps, radar sites, terror hideout, and helipad, were struck. The drones, fully autonomous and synchronised by satellite feeds and area correlation technologies, could also engage opportunity targets on call, the Army said.
The bigger hexacopters, called the ‘motherships’, launched ‘child drones’ which oriented and aligned themselves according to the target designations, and optimised target trajectory according to artificial intelligence algorithms onboard flight computers. The ‘child drones,’ carrying explosives, then crashed into the target, destroying themselves and the enemy asset- in a typical kamikaze strike.
Before the child drones commenced the targeting sequence, another team of drones entered the airspace and carried out confirmatory reconnaissance using raster scans, and assigned the targets to individual drones to execute pre-programmed offensive missions. In addition, the payloads carried by these drones are also customisable in reference to the target profile.
Last year, the Indian Air Force also tested its swarm drone capability for the first time, showing at least 15 hexacopters flying in a coordinated manner from an airbase. However, the images were blurred- whether the blurring is done intentionally or unintentionally is not known, but experts had stated that this could be to hide the characteristics and the manufacturing company of these drones.
Apart from combat applications, these drones are also helpful for logistics, which can reach out to the soldiers manning posts at less-accessible areas and carry out autonomous supply drop missions.
Why Swarm Drones?
Swarm drones is a concept where a large cluster (or many clusters) of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are flown together in contested or hostile airspace, in order to confuse the radar with a much bigger image of the actual target and achieve their assigned objective, or other specific missions like surgical strikes or supporting tactical operations
These drones (or robots) work in tandem with each other and are controlled either manually or autonomously by using processors on board.
These could be efficiently used in Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses/ Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD/DEAD) roles, by giving a distorted image of bogeys on the radar, detecting the enemy radar sites and relaying that information to their operators.
If these drones are armed, these can also be used as kamikaze or strike roles, hitting the enemy Air Defense sites or other critical infrastructural assets. These can be used in many other areas as well, and their operational capabilities and scope are still being developed with innovative ideas.
Apart from military applications, its civilian usage is also being done in many ways like aerial demonstrations. This technology has been on a rapid rise in China, the biggest manufacturer and the user of military and non-military UAVs. They are even used as fireworks and other entertainment purposes among the Chinese population.
China has already made rapid advancements in the deployment of its military drone swarms. Last year, the country released a video of a ‘barrage swarm’ truck-mounted system tested for its military and is the first practical use of such system on this scale anywhere in the world.