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DRDO Amidst RD Parade Display, the Missing UAV

Representative Image

India’s Republic Day Parade saw a stellar display of major arms and munitions developed indigenously by the Defence Research and Development Organisation or the DRDO.

The DRDO tableau displayed Man Portable Anti-tank Guided Missile (MPATGM), Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Missile, and Agni-5, Surface-to-Surface Ballistic Missile, Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS), Naval Anti-Ship Missile–Short Range (NASM-SR), Anti-Tank Guided Missile ‘HELINA’, Quick Reaction Surface-to-Air Missile (QRSAM), Astra, Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’, ‘Uttam’ Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar (AESAR), Advanced Electronic Warfare System 'Shakti', Cyber Security systems, Command Control Systems and the Semi Conductor Fabrication Facility.

The DRDO developed strategic systems are of significance including the Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Missile used in Mission Shakti was a breakthrough in demonstrating the nation’s anti-satellite technology and precision strike capability.

The strategic long range missile Agni-5 is the surface-to-surface ballistic missile capable of striking targets with high degree of accuracy.

Indigenously developed MPATGM is a third generation ATGM with ‘Fire & Forget’ ‘Top Attack’ and night operational capability. It is launched from a man portable launcher, integrated with thermal sight.

NASM-SR is the first indigenous air launched anti-ship missile system.

VSHORADS is a Man Portable Air Defence System meant for neutralising low altitude aerial threats at short ranges.

Helicopter-launched Nag is the third generation, fire and forget Anti-Tank Guided Missile that can engage targets in direct hit mode as well as top attack mode. The system has all-weather day and night capability and can defeat battle tanks having conventional as well as  explosive reactive armour.

The QRSAM is all-weather, Air-Defence system that provides mobile air defence cover to mechanised assets of the Indian Army in the Tactical Battle Area. ASTRA, is a state-of-the-art beyond visual range air-to-air missile to engage and destroy highly maneuvering supersonic aerial targets.

LCA Tejas is indigenously developed light-weight and multirole 4+ generation tactical fighter aircraft which can carry laser guided bombs and modern missiles to cause extreme damage to the target. Uttam Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar (AESAR) is a multimode, solid-state active phased array fire control radar with scalable architecture that can be adapted for various types of fighter class of aircraft.

Advanced Electronic Warfare (EW) System ‘Shakti’ has been designed and developed for Indian Navy for the interception, detection, classification, identification and jamming of conventional and modern Radars.

Many systems/technologies developed by DRDO were also displayed at Kartavya Path in various contingents of the Armed Forces.

This included Pinaka, Nag Missile System, mobile bridging system ‘Sarvatra’, Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM), Weapon Locating Radar ‘Swathi’ etc. The fly past of the Indian Air Force will include LCA Tejas and AEW&C developed by DRDO.

In an interview with the ANI, Defence Research and Development Organisation chairman, Dr Samir V Kamat claimed that nearly ₹4.94 lakh crores worth of DRDO-developed products have either been inducted or have received the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) from the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC).

He also claimed that over 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the inducted products are in the last five to seven years. "The developments are now increasingly getting done much faster than earlier. My estimate is, more than 60 per cent or 70 per cent of the inducted products are in the last 5-7 years. This rate is going to increase dramatically as we go ahead," he added.

The Missing UAV in DRDO’s Repertoire

A significant missing link in the DRDO lab to battlefield products is the Unmanned Aerial  Vehicle or Drones which today are seen as the core necessity in wars from Ukraine to Gaza, Lebanon and Azerbaijan and the Red Sea.

This noticeable gap has resulted in India depending on foreign procurement with the Israeli Searcher, Heron Mark-I and Mark II drones largely making up for the requirement of almost 150 UAVs in this category.

In addition drones for tactical purposes and one way or attack are also an essential in the warfare of today, but the DRDO has failed to provide one to the armed forces.

Most recently in a major setback to the DRDO, the programme for Tapas-BH (tactical aerial platform for advanced surveillance beyond horizon) has been abandoned as it could not meet the preliminary services qualitative requirements (PSQRs). “Tapas failed to meet essential PSQRs in terms of the altitude at which it should fly and its operational endurance. It has a flying endurance of only around 18 hours at an altitude of 28,000 feet,” a source was reported by the Times of India.

“A medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) remotely-piloted aircraft should be capable of operating at an altitude up to 30,000 feet for at least 24 hours. DRDO will now look at redesigning and redeveloping such a UAV,” the Times of India reported.

Interestingly on January 10, Adani Defence and Aerospace delivered the first MALE drone to be “made” called Drishti10 Starliner, in collaboration with Israeli firm Elbit Systems, to the Navy. Two of these drones have already been ordered by the Army and the Navy and are based on the Israeli Hermes 900 Starliner and have a service ceiling of 30,000 feet with an endurance of 36 hours, under emergency procurement provisions.

The DRDO’s inability to provide a developed drone product to the armed forces is not due to lack of efforts as it has developed the Nishant and Rustom over a period but these failed to make the mark.

Is the lack of development of the UAV to a logical conclusion due to poor visualization of significance of the platform in future warfare by the armed forces and the DRDO or an intrinsic deficit or vested indigenous and foreign interests is an open question.

Clearly not just the DRDO but the armed forces will have much to answer for their inability to have an indigenous drone in their repertoire facing a two front challenge where China and Pakistan are demonstrating stellar capabilities in this domain.

Note: Details of systems displayed on the Republic Day is as per the press release of the DRDO.

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