“Mountains are the acid test of logistics- the ability of Armies to provide sustenance and maintain warfighting potential is nowhere more tenuous”
– By the Author
The MoD, on December 16, 2022, issued a Request for Information (RFI) (broadly, a document aimed at identifying potential vendors) for procurement of 570 scalable and upgradable Logistic Drones (LD) for the Indian Army (IA). The RFI envisages two versions of these drones- LD (Standard)(S) for deployment upto 12000 feet and LD (High Altitude) (HA) for deployment above 12000 feet. The RFI states the requirement for Indian vendors to adhere to the Buy (Indian-IDDM [Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured]), Buy (Indian) or Buy & Make (Indian) categories of the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP)-2020. This would ensure that the products have an indigenous content (IC) of at least 50% on cost basis of the base contract price/make portion of the product, if not more- in keeping with the drive towards Atmanirbharta in defence production/acquisition.
The above RFI was preceded by a Request for Proposal (RFP- a document that describes the product in detail and solicits bids from qualified vendors for the same) for 163 LD (HA) (capable of launch from an altitude not less than 4000 m Above Mean Sea Level-AMSL) and 200 LD (Medium Altitude-MA, capable of launch from an altitude not less than 3000 m AMSL) drones in the Buy (Indian) category under Emergency Procurement through Fast Track Procedure (FTP)- which is resorted to for procurement related to an imminent operational requirement in response to an operational criticality, where adherence to the timelines of the normal acquisition procedure would adversely affect operational preparedness. The FTP envisages delivery of equipment within one year of signing the contract. The RFP elucidates similar operational parameters to the above RFI, which are enumerated subsequently.
Source – timesofindia.indiatimes.com
How Would LD Be Defined in the Indian Context?
A Logistic Drone (LD) is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used for ‘last mile’ transportation of items required for logistics sustenance of recipient personnel. Payloads would include rations, medical supplies, documents, equipment spares, military equipment and ammunition (delivery of crew-served weapons/ move forward of specialist personnel/casualty evacuation would be future envisaged capabilities for larger, heavy-duty UAVs). Such LD could be autonomous/manual or a combination of both these flight modes. These drones would invariably have ‘return home’ capability – a ‘failsafe’ mechanism that allows the LD to return to a pre-fed ‘home’ location when there is an undesirable change in flight parameters (loss of data connectivity with ground station/low battery power/detected malfunction of sub-assemblies etc.) or when directed to do so by the remote controller. LD are normally operated as part of a logistics UAV fleet, to ensure uninterrupted logistics sustenance to deployed forces. These LD could be of various types- Single/Multi-Rotor/Fixed-Wing/Fixed-Wing Hybrid Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL). Multi-rotor and hybrid VTOL drones have obvious advantages of stability, greater payload capability and lesser requirement of real-estate for landing/ delivery of cargo. Hybrid VTOL drones offer the additional advantages of greater speed (therefore less turnaround time and larger number of sorties in a 24 hour cycle) and relatively lesser noise during fixed-wing flight. Since logistics sustenance must be capable of day/night operation, LD must be night capable (must be capable of mounting night vision sensors (IR/ thermal imagers/ low-light TV) for terminal guidance at drop/landing zones and on return to take-off locations. Redundancy in geo-positioning by way of compatibility with various geo-location services (eg:- GPS/ GLONASS/ NAVIC systems) would be a requirement. Since LD would operate close to own forward line of defences, electric propulsion would find favour over fuel engines, due to the former’s lower noise factor. However, this would have to be weighed against the power requirements, where fuel-engines would have an edge. Of course, payload delivery capabilities would have to be commensurate with actual areas of operation- with regard to operating altitude and take-off /landing capability (as prevalent along the International Border and Line of Control/Line of Actual Control with Pakistan/China respectively. Cruise altitudes above ground level must cater to minimise interference from at least small arms of the adversary.
The impetus on procurement of LD for various terrain configurations prevalent along India’s borders and the envisaged operational range of about 10 Kms clearly indicate the recognition and imperativeness accorded to providing own forward deployed troops with responsive, resilient and agile logistics support, to ensure ‘last mile’ sustenance for deployed echelons. This would, importantly, obviate diversion of troops for rearward logistics sustenance duties, thus increasing operational effectiveness and reducing the need for forward movement of contracted labour, thereby saving revenue over time. The requirement for vendors to certify that the product is sanitised against any malicious code/ software that would be inimical to own operational interests, indicates the MoD’s sensitivity towards protection of such equipment from sinister, oft prevalent, adversary-sponsored attempts at degradation.
The broad operational parameters of these LD as encapsulated in the RFI are described below:-
While a number of vendors including several Indian startups are involved in development of LD, some Defence PSUs/Indian vendors/ firms from friendly foreign countries in the logistics drone market are briefly profiled below.
Akshat-HNX75: Source – vtolaviations.com
Zen HL LD: Source – zentechnologies.com
MR-20 Hexacopter/ Ambulance Drone: Source – YouTube/economictimes.indiatimes.com
Screengrab of Vertiplane X3 H-UAV: Source – techeagle.in
ThunderB: Source – iai.co.il
QX-6 at Dubai Airshow : Source-defensenews.com
Forward deployment of IA troops invariably implies protracted dispositions in hostile, high-altitude terrain, where remoteness and uncongenial climate present existential challenges. Against this backdrop, continued operational efficiency of operationally deployed forces has to be ensured by failproof, persistent, round-the-clock logistics support. LD provides a low-risk and economic means to meet the requirements of such responsive logistics sustenance.
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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