By Prarthana Mitra
The Indian Armed Forces on Tuesday acquired their first ever aerial surveillance system to look down from the sky during combat. The Spylite mini unmanned aerial system (mini-UAS) was manufactured and sold to the military by a Hyderabad-based joint venture between Indian firm Cyient Solutions and Systems (CSS) and the well-reputed Israeli defence firm BlueBird Aero Systems.
An urgent army requirement
The urgent necessity of “eyes in the sky” is perhaps felt acutely in sensitive border zones like Doklam, and Kashmir, which often requires the forwarding infantries to look beyond the nearest hill, or treeline, or highrises. Until now, soldiers have had to rely on a helicopter, fighter reconnaissance missions or satellite photos, which costs critical time during combat.
“Taking off from very high altitude in extreme weather conditions, the SpyLite flew over the high mountainous landscape, performing all its missions successfully,” detailed a CSS press release on Tuesday.
Specs and capability
The SpyLite mini-UAS weighs 9.5 kg and can be launched via a rail launcher within minutes. It can look down from an altitude of 3,000 feet by virtue of its electric motor, besides relaying video feed and high-definition images via a camera with infra-red sensors. The launching unit remotely controls the flying vehicle and the sensors.
On completion of a mission lasting up to four hours, the SpyLite flies back to its point of origin and lands using a parachute. If communication and control links fail, the UAS can activate its “return home” feature to guide it back home.
Indigenising the defence infrastructure sector
The tender for 600 mini-UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, slightly larger than UAS), for Rs 10 billion, was floated by the Northern Command (which conducts counter-militant and counter-infiltration operations in Kashmir and along its border with Pakistan and China).
Of the seven Indian firms have responded to the tender for 600 mini-UAS that the army floated last year, the Hyderabad-based firm delivered its first UAS this week. The CSS joint venture looks forward to co-developing customised payloads for military and civilian users in the future, with a view to increasing indigenous defence manufacture by 40-50%.
Neither the military nor CSS has divulged about the cost of SpyLite UAS purchased by the army. N J Joseph, who heads CSS, is only willing to reveal that this was a competitive procurement and that their system was the only UAS that met all the army’s requirements and passed the demanding trials at altitudes above 5,000 metres. For now, the SpyLite remains an almost entirely Israeli system, which has served the Israeli army for a decade.
Requisitions for the near future
Most defence forces around the world have portable, mini-unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for years now. India had inducted the Israeli Searcher and Heron UAVs in the early 2000s, but they operate from an airfield and aren’t optimal for frontline infantry troops.
The navy is currently exploring the purchase of large, long-endurance Sea Guardian UAVs from the US. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing the indigenous Rustom UAV.
The army recently floated a request for information (RFI) for 75 mini RPAs (remotely piloted aircraft) that are specially configured for high altitudes. The RFI says a formal tender can be expected by April 2019, according to Business Standard.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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