Sunday, April 18

New-age wars of the 21st century and Indian Navy’s tryst with unmanned systems


The Indian Navy aims to achieve complete Unmanned Solutions with fusing all the data collected by various unmanned systems deployed. Some platforms in the pipeline including 10 drones from the US based General Atomics; 10 Naval Shipborne Unmanned Aerial System (NSUS); minesweepers are expected to be part of the Indian Navy soon.

“The world has changed and there are new enemies and new wars to fight in the 21st century, and for this purpose new war machines with the state of the art technologies are needed,” explained a service veteran.

India the three services are in the midst of massive shift in priorities for defence expenditure, and the focus has slowly shifted from combating terrorism towards fighting off the aggressions of — China and Pakistan.

Top sources confirmed to Financial Express Online, “Due to budgetary constraints, there is a push towards fleet rationalization. And have reached a point where in place of manned platforms the focus has shifted to unmanned platforms. For instance, there is a requirement for 12 minesweepers. So, the navy is looking for unmanned minesweepers, additional P-8Is, NSUS, and more UUVs.” Adding, “The Indian Navy has always the latest technology whether it is an eye in the sky or Sonar and UUVs to deal with threats underwater.”

“The data gathered that is gathered through AI based software is for better and faster analysis for seamless flow of information and helps the navy in its operations.”

What is Indian Navy getting?

The Indian Navy has been pushing for High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones to beef up surveillance to keep an eye on the huge Ocean space as well as increasing its profile in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

As has been reported by Financial Express Online earlier, a deal with the US based General Atomics is expected to be inked soon. The Indian Navy is going to acquire 10 Predator (MQ-9) series UAVs.

The Predator (MQ-9) UAV from the US is perhaps the most iconic aircraft of the war on terror. Over two decades the people across the globe have grown familiar with the Drones.

How did the Predators get the name Sea Guardian?

General Atomics defines Sea Guardians as highly modular and easily configurable High altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted Vehicles/Aircraft (RPV/RPA). This allows the customer selected combination of payloads to be fitted onboard, thus making it specialized for specific needs. According to sources, “Indian Navy, which is the lead service for the procurement of HALE, exploited this ability and selected some of the latest most versatile sensors and payloads to make it better than the aircraft being operated by the customer themselves.”

A team of its best unmanned crew went globetrotting for selection of the airframe and sensors package. And through their journey, the Indian Navy team got an opportunity to interact with USAF, and RAF officers to understand the operational performance of their sensor packages. “To understand real world ranges in the Maritime Domain, the protector programme in particular was helpful. And through this dedicated and tedious process India’s Sea Guardian was conceived. The UAVs presently on lease are just a shade of cross domain capable aircraft yet to come,” explained a source.

Being a technological intensive and network centric service, Indian Navy has already commenced defining various Letters Of Intent (LoIs) towards the MUM-T (Manned and Unmanned Team). This would give the commander at sea, increased flexibility and reduced sensor shooter timeline. Sea Guardian is fully capable to interact and share information with P-8I multirole maritime ASW aircraft.

Negotiations are going on with the US based Boeing company for a contract of 10 Naval Ship borne Unmanned Aerial Systems. In fact when the US Defense Secretary visits India next week this will be topping the agenda for discussions.

Induction of NSUS is expected soon

These are ship launched tactical unmanned aircraft, that would provide cover to ships on Mission Based Deployment or Pichet ships which are operating away from shore based air support ability to build MDA without any electronic emissions emanating from the mother ship. The stealth and surprise both can be maintained whilst continuing tracking the vessel of interest.

How will these help the Indian Navy?

All these new unmanned inductions are very critical as there has been a spurt in UUVs incidents across the globe. And in the case of the Indian Navy’s air ASW platform, the arrival of MH-60 R is still awaited and the Dunking Sonar has aged.

During this period, it becomes very important for the Navy to induct both HALE and NSUS at the earliest. The interesting fact about the Quad (India, the US, Japan and Australia) meeting is that all the four members have great interest in the Sea Guardian and are operating P8-I and MH-60R.


Once the HALE drones are inducted in the navy they can be used for surveillance, and the P-8Is will be for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) roles. The Sea Guardian can fly in sync with its P-8Is.

Since both India and the US have inked the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018, the US origin platforms will get encrypted systems which are expected to further improve their capabilities.

This takes the interoperability between the two to the next level. And will be of great help when the navies of the Quad go in for the next Malabar exercise.

Unmanned Minesweepers?

The navy is keen to get the unmanned minesweepers. The US Navy and the Royal Navy already have these in service. These minesweepers are used for triggering modern naval mines without endangering manned vessels or crew.