Warplanes: Indian Army Gets A Taste


October 9, 2018: The Indian Army has ordered several Israeli Spylite mini-UAVs from a newly created Indian firm. The army made this purchase using the small discretionary fund major commands have for emergency items. The Spylite purchase was considered an emergency because in Kashmir and on the Chinese border the Pakistani (Kashmir) and Chinese forces have small UAVs and the Indian forces do not. The army has made a formal request for 75 Skylite UAVs but that purchase could take years to makes its way through the Indian procurement bureaucracy, despite the fact that the request specified a small UAV that can operate at high altitudes and does everything else Spylite does. Meanwhile, the Israeli Spylite manufacturer entered into a partnership with an Indian firm earlier in the year to build Spylite in India with at least 50 percent of the components from Indian suppliers. Spylite already won a competition to demonstrate that it could operate reliably at high altitudes. This is something the Spylite has been doing since it was introduced in 2010.

The Spylite weighs 9.5 kg (21 pounds) and has a payload of 1.4 kg (three pounds). Max endurance is four hours and it can operate up to 50 kilometers from its controller. Spylite is launched with a portable catapult and lands via parachute. Spylite can be backpacked (in two 20 kg/44 pound loads) but is usually transported in a vehicle. The battery operated Spylite was designed to cope with high winds. This is a problem smaller UAVs (like the 2 kg Raven) have a lot of trouble with. For Spylite max altitude is 9,100 meters (30,000 feet) but for best results, it should operate at under 1,000 meters (3,100 feet). In other words, if ground fire is a big problem, Spylite can climb high enough (6,000 meters) to be safe. That high altitude capability made Spylite suitable for Indian border zones. Minimum speed is 60 kilometers an hour and max speed is 120 kilometers. It takes about 15 minutes to land one, replace the battery, and get it into the air again. The Spylite has a lot of real-world experience (in combat and civilian situations) and has flown over 35,000 sorties so far. Its day/night vidcams are gimbaled so they can be moved around quickly. The sensor software can automatically follow anything on the ground designated by the operator. There is also a special communication option that extends range (from the operator) to 120 kilometers. Spylite can be controlled by an operator in a moving vehicle. Spylite has been popular with police and border patrol organizations and has been used by the Israeli armed forces since its introduction.

In 2017 the Indian Army requested 600 small UAVs in 2017. These would be like Spylite and must be Indian made. It could take five years or more for this request to be acted on, which is a major problem for the Indian Army for all weapons requests.

The army need for these small UAVs is the same as in any other country. Most of the air support, including surveillance, comes from the air force. The problem is the air force has limited resources (even though the Indian Air Force has some large UAVs) and cannot always get an aircraft or helicopter into the air when the army needs some airborne surveillance. Smaller UAVs solve that problem and the Indian Army wants to apply the solution. That is difficult because of the slothful and obstructive military procurement system.


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