For Mini UAVs

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Aviation Defence & Inindia -

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:

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