For Mini UAVs
Mini UAVs have been a longstanding need of land forces, and the recent Defence Acquisition Council decision to accord Acceptance of Necessity for some 600 Mini UAVs for the Indian Army ( see Vayu VI/ 2016) has re- energised the ebbing interest of many OEMs in this ‘on-again, off-again’ programme that has been through more than a few RFIs and been subject of much debate and discussion in various fora.
A Mini UAV is a means to an end and not the end itself, which is to carry out real time remote reconnaissance. This is an aspect which is occasionally confused or lost sight of. It is therefore imperative that equal, if not more, importance is given to the sensor payload of a Mini UAV. Depending on the application, payloads could be of many different types. However, this discussion in is limited to the impending procurement case, and therefore restricted to the most basic and commonly used purpose of remote reconnaissance of the area of interest of a battalion commander in the visible and thermal (infrared) spectrum by electro-optical (EO) sensors. Mini UAVs are essentially airborne vehicles, which afford ease of transportation, assembly, launch, operations, recovery and disassembly by one or two persons. In the case of the Indian Army requirement, the system is to be capable of remote sensing in nearly all weather conditions, by both day and night. Certain salient characteristics of a Mini UAV system for such an application would therefore necessarily be as follows:
The Mini UAV system as a whole (including the associated equipment) must be lightweight, to enable carriage by a maximum of two soldiers. It should lend itself to quick and simple assembly and disassembly to facilitate immediate deployment and rapid evacuation. Ideally, it should be capable of launch with minimal or no site preparation and without assistance of any additional equipment than what is carried.
The Mini UAV should be easily operable by non-technical persons having minimal training. It should have either very simple landing procedures, or an auto land capability.
Since these platforms will be used extensively in the field, at the battalion level or even lower, the operating conditions will be harsh and unforgiving. Mini UAVs inherently fly at low altitude and speed, which makes them vulnerable to enemy fire. Additionally, the landings of these UAVs are normally harsh, making them prone to damage. The system should therefore be rugged and reliable to withstand the operating conditions, as well as low cost to facilitate easier repair and/or replacement.
Having day/ night and all weather capability that can be quickly selected mid-mission without recalling the UAV to switch or adjust payloads is essential. Visibility issues such as smoke and dust obscuration on the battlefield manifest themselves unexpectedly and without warning, demanding the greatest flexibility from a Mini UAV’s EO payload.
The Mini UAV should be adequately stealthy (visually and aurally), so that tactical areas or targets of interest are not made aware of platforms’ deployment. Similarly, platform endurance multiplies the tactical effect of a Mini UAV, either through increased reach or greater time aloft over an area of interest. From the aforementioned characteristics of Mini UAV flying platforms, certain key requirements of the EO payload can be surmised: