Seeking to enhance its surveillance capabilities on its warships, the Indian Navy (IN) has now announced a global competition for procuring ‘Ship-Borne Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’ (UAV) that can augment various patrolling and search-related tactics on its vessels. The IN currently operates two squadrons of UAVs, but they are land-based platforms operating from naval air stations in Gujarat and Kerala.
The Request for Information (RFI), issued by the Directorate of Naval Air Staff (DNAS) last month seeks 50 Naval Shipborne Unmanned Aerial System (NSUAS) for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and monitoring of Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), Exclusive Economic Zone safety, anti-piracy and anti-terrorism functions along with Search and Rescue (S&R) roles, naval officials said. At present, the IN operates two squadrons of Israeli-origin Heron and Searcher Mk.II UAVs at the Indian Naval Air Station (INAS) 342 at Kochi and INAS 343 at Porbandar in Gujarat.
“However, the smaller UAVs launched from ships increases the vessels’ surveillance range. They also enhance the ship’s communication with other friendly vessels by relaying signals, especially from the Rukmani, the dedicated naval communications satellite. It is part of a larger intertwining communications network in a naval manoeuvre coordinating with other aircraft, ships and satellites.
An important function is also to track the trajectories of friendly missiles towards their targets,” explained an IN source. One such NSUAS was also tested here when the Austrian make Schiebel S-100 Camcopter being launched from an Indian Coast Guard ship a few years ago.
While the RFI does not specify the type of ‘recovery’ provision — whether ‘assisted’ or ‘auto’ for the UAV — it does stipulate that the craft should also be capable of operating from ashore, although it is primarily intended to be controlled from ships. According to defence industry sources, Boeing firm Insitu is one of the interested companies, looking forward to pitch their ScanEagle NSUAS.
Various technical queries in the RFI the interested bidders are expected to answer also includes questions on whether the system’s control can be handed over from one ship to the other and whether the control station can be miniaturised into a ‘stand alone laptop control’, indicating the IN’s needs for a versatile platform.