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Updated December 18th, 2023 at 14:45 IST

India’s indigenous carrier INS Vikrant makes historic breakthrough with deck-based UAV operations

The Indian Navy achieved a groundbreaking milestone with successful UAV landing and take-off tests on INS Vikrant, showcasing a leap in maritime capabilities.

Yuvraj Tyagi
INS Vikrant Night
The integration of advanced UAVs into naval operations enhances surveillance, reconnaissance, and communication. | Image:X/@IN_R11Vikrant
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In a momentous achievement, the Indian Navy has successfully conducted tests for the landing and take-off of an Indian-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from its indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. This groundbreaking development, undertaken quietly at the beginning of the year, signals a significant leap forward in India's maritime capabilities and underscores the navy's commitment to staying at the forefront of technological advancements. 

While the tests were conducted discreetly, insider sources reveal that the Indian Navy has been quietly ramping up its drone capabilities. This strategic move aligns with global trends, where navies worldwide are increasingly integrating UAVs into their operational frameworks for enhanced surveillance, reconnaissance, and communication capabilities.

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Recognizing the pivotal role of UAVs in modern naval operations, the Indian Navy is actively exploring designs for Landing Platform Docks (LPDs). These designs aim to accommodate a range of UAVs, including unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) and uncrewed fighter jets. The Indian Navy's journey into UAV capabilities began in the 2000s when it inducted fixed-wing UAVs from Israel, including Searcher and Heron. These UAVs, operated by shore-based Naval Squadrons, played a crucial role in intelligence-gathering, utilizing electro-optic cameras and Communication Intelligence (COMINT) systems. 

Innovation in UAV command and control 

An innovative approach allows the Indian Navy to take over UAV command mid-sea, transferring control to another designated warship after launch. This innovation enhances the navy's operational flexibility, allowing warships at sea to exploit UAVs for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. 

The recent success story involves a quadcopter developed by Pune-based Sagar Defense Engineering. The UAV, successfully landing and taking off from the deck of INS Vikrant, represents a critical step in integrating UAVs into naval operations. Captain Nikunj Parashar (retired), the firm's co-founder and Managing Director, confirmed the successful operation. 

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Smaller UAVs launched from carriers and warships are expected to significantly increase surveillance range. Beyond surveillance, these UAVs will enhance communication capabilities between friendly vessels, relaying signals, especially from dedicated naval communication satellites like Rukmani. This development creates a robust network coordinating various assets, including aircraft, ships, and satellites. 

Global trends and future prospects 

The successful UAV tests align with global trends, such as the recent landing of General Atomics UAV 'Mojave' on the British carrier HMS Prince of Wales. Experts suggest that this achievement paves the way for the deployment of heavier drones from Indian carriers in the future, marking a strategic shift in naval capabilities.

Credit- X/@IN_R11Vikrant

Besides the deployment of French Rafale-M fighter jets, INS Vikrant is poised to carry two UAVs on its deck. While the specific type is yet to be determined, the Indian Navy is actively engaging with domestic firms for collaborative efforts in UAV development, showcasing a commitment to indigenous capabilities. 

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Last year, the Indian Navy released a Request for Information (RFI) seeking 40 Naval Unmanned Aerial Systems (NSUAS) for large warships. The RFI outlined the intended use for surveillance activities, signals intelligence (SIGINT), target acquisition, and maritime domain awareness surrounding naval task forces. 

Shipborne drones: Forward deployment advantage 

One of the significant advantages of shipborne drones lies in their forward deployment capabilities. The flexibility of deploying drones at any given time enhances the navy's operational readiness, allowing swift responses to evolving maritime situations.

Credit- X/@IN_R11Vikrant

In a move highlighting the diverse applications of UAV technology, the Indian Navy decided to induct 'Varuna,' the country's first passenger-carrying drone developed by Sagar Defence Engineering. Capable of landing and taking off from moving warships, Varuna adds a new dimension to naval drone capabilities, particularly in logistical support and reconnaissance. 

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The Indian Navy's focus on the Naval Shipborne Aerial System (NSAS) involves deck-launched tactical UAVs, providing local intelligence, surveillance, and air cover to the fleet's warships. The NSAS design includes a transportable launch system, offering flexibility in deploying UAVs as needed. 

As the Indian Navy achieves new milestones in UAV capabilities, the focus on indigenous development and collaborations with domestic firms signals a promising future. The integration of advanced UAVs into naval operations is set to play a pivotal role in safeguarding India's maritime interests, reinforcing the country's position as a maritime powerhouse in the region. 

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Published December 18th, 2023 at 14:45 IST

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