In a cornerstone advancement towards indigenization of battlefield capability, the Indian Air Force (IAF) received its first consignment of ALS-50 indigenous Loitering Munitions (LM) from Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) earlier this month. The ALS-50 was first showcased at DefExpo-2022, amongst other LMs fielded by indigenous vendors (read more @ https://chanakyaforum.com/defexpo-2022-a-marque-of-atmanirbharta-in-defence/) and is part of a new generation of indigenous hybrid UAVs (read about hybrid UAVs @ https://chanakyaforum.com/hybrid-uavs-the-advent-of-responsive-combat-capability/). The ALS-50 is an autonomous LM with a 23 Kg payload and is designed for Vertical Take-off/Landing (VTOL). The LM successfully completed rigorous VTOL trials and high-altitude trials in Leh before accurately destroying a ground target at Pokhran Field Firing Ranges, Rajasthan in September last year. The LM incidentally received the Raksha Mantri’s Award for Excellence in Defence and Aerospace Sector in October 2022!
ALS-50 at DefExpo-2022: Source-swarajyamag.com
Why Does India Require LMs?
It is postulated that LMs fit into the operational niche between cruise missiles and Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs)- the LM itself is the munition, akin to a missile; while it possesses the maneuverability/ ‘controllability’ of a UCAV. The Indian Armed Forces (AF) quest to significantly enhance multi-domain lethality would therefore see progress with the advent/acquisition of LMs. These machines can be launched from low-visibility mobile launchers, attain necessary altitude above the adversary’s short-range Air Defence weapons if required , covertly loiter for protracted periods over enemy territory/contested areas seeking out potential targets, and convert into a ‘kamikaze’ drone before swooping in to destroy an unsuspecting target on the ground/over the water or switch targets /abort a mission for re-use, thus enhancing battlefield flexibility. Such intrinsic capabilities to survive over a tactical battlespace and attack an adversary target at will, truly makes the LM a weapon to be contended with in the present and future battlefields.
The functionality of a Typical LM: Source-researchgate.net
The operational battlespaces across India’s land/maritime borders are characterized by a few salient aspects, which would dictate fruitful employment of LMs, as follows: –
What Are the Armed Forces’ Options for Acquisition?
LMs have arguably been in operations since the Lebanon War, wherein the Israelis used UAVs as loitering ‘decoys’/anti-radar munitions against Syrian Surface to Air Missiles sites, preceding their destruction by the Israeli Air Force.
India has recognized the role of LMs in the operational/tactical battlespace and is seeking a tranche of approximately 1000 LM to meet immediate operational requirements. The AF began the induction of LMs with the IAF’s earlier acquisition in 2009 of 10 pieces of the Harop LM, manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), with a similar follow-on order. Incidentally, the Harop was publicly unveiled to the world for the first time in India, in the lead-up to AeroIndia 2009! The LM has a range of 1000 Km, endurance of up to nine hours, and a warhead payload capacity of 23 Kg. Its sensors provide a hemispherical 360° coverage for automatic target search/identification, acquisition, and attack. It also has a live video relay and anti-radar homing capability. IAI also unveiled the Maritime Harop in 2017, with a new maritime-configuration launcher and upgraded communication channels, tailor-made for Naval operations. The Harop also appeared as Agnikaa at the Adani Defence enclosure at AeroIndia 2023, suggesting future acquisitions of this LM through the ‘Strategic Partnership’ model of Defence production enshrined in the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP)-2020.
Harop(L) and Agnikaa (R): Source- asiapacificdefencenews.com/twitter.com
The AF’s global market acquisitions include the Warmate LM from Polish Firm WB Electronics, supplied by its Indian subsidiary WB Electronics India Private Limited, established in October 2020 primarily for the IA. This acquisition was kick-started by a Request for Information (RFI) floated in March 2020 by the AF for 100 man-portable LMs, with an operational range of 15 Km, endurance of 30 minutes, and a maximum weight of 20 Kg. A Request for Proposal (RFP) issued by the IA later in the same year, stipulated a duration of 18 months for delivery from the date of signing the contract. The LM is equipped with an EO/IR payload for target identification and mounts a Thermobaric/HE warhead. Optionally, the system can be equipped with a laser-seeking warhead, making it effective against Armoured Fighting Vehicles. Approximately 120 of these tactical LMs have been delivered to the IA for employment largely along the LAC. These will be operated by the Infantry/Special Forces and launched from man-portable platforms.
Warmate LM (L), On Man-Portable Launcher (R): Source-WB Group/twitter.com
The LM inventory of the AF will also be boosted by way of Joint Ventures (JV) by indigenous vendors with foreign collaborators. Some of these are as under: –
Sky Striker LM: Source-elbitsystems.com
Indigenous Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) manufacturers, backed by the Government’s ‘Make in India’ vision, are all set to occupy center stage in the LM business. Some of these ventures (which include the ALS-50 described previously), are highlighted below: –
LM0, LM1, and Hexacopter During High-Altitude Trials: Source-bharatshakti.in
Warheads for Hexacopter LM: Source-solargroup.com
Nagastra-3: Source- solargroup.com
The plethora of indigenous Defence firms/startups contributing to the UAS industry in general and the LM market, in the particular context of this article (the products listed are by no means exhaustive), can only augur well for India’s push towards ‘Atmanirbharta’ in this niche technological space, which is set to become and remain one of the principal influencers and force multipliers in the immediate and foreseeable tactical and operational battlespaces.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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