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Indian firm bags Army’s Rs 140-crore deal for high altitude UAVs

DEFENCE-India-16-01-2021

The Army has awarded a $20 million deal (around Rs 140 crore) to an Indian firm, ideaForge, for an undisclosed number of the advanced version of SWITCH tactical drones.

These specialised drones are made to operate in high altitude areas like Ladakh, for use by infantry soldiers and Special Forces. India has been engaged in a border stand-off with China at the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh region since April-May last year.

The niche drone maker won the contract after competing with Israel’s top UAV manufacturer Elbit, besides the Tata Group, Dynamatic Technologies Ltd, and VTOL Aviation.

The firm will deliver the systems, which are used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), over a period of one year, according to a company statement Thursday.

“ideaForge has been awarded this contract after it emerged as the only vendor that qualified the operational requirements in an evaluation done in real-world conditions, for a fast-track procurement,” the statement said.

It added that the contract marks a strategic shift in the Indian defence procurement process as the Army goes on an aggressive modernisation drive.

The standard man portable SWITCH weighs 6.5 kg and is capable of vertical take-off, conventional flight with an endurance of 2 hours. It can carry out surveillance up to 15 km from altitudes of 4,000 meters. It has a maximum operating altitude of 1000 metres and has a wind resistance up to 10.8 knots or 20 km per hour.

The SWITCH is a Fixed Wing VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) UAV which can be deployed at high altitude and harsh environments for day and night surveillance in ISR missions. It has a daylight payload of 1280×720 pixels, 25x Optical Zoom and has a thermal payload of 640×480 pixels.

However, the Army has ordered an advanced version of this drone, which comes with extended endurance and covers 700 sq km from each take off point. It comes with encrypted communication and long range target detection with HD optical zoom payload.

Speaking to ThePrint, ideaForge chief executive Ankit Mehta said the firm was “super excited” about the deal, adding that the SWITCH UAV is the only product that cleared the Army’s stringent product trials and surpassed expectations.

“It is a testimony of the fact that our systems are built like a bird and tested like a tank. Our systems are fully ready to serve nations that seek to protect their territorial sovereignty,” he said.

Asked if he is also looking at exports, Mehta said the company is in talks with certain countries. He added that the Army’s contract will push its case before other nations since everyone is aware of how stringent Indian defence trials are.

“We are keen on exports. Everyone understands that Indian trails are vigorous. We have had consultations and demonstrations for some other countries too,” he said. Mehta added that the indigenous content of the system is “much higher” than the requirements stated by the Services.

The company is backed by institutional investors such as WRVI, Infosys and Qualcomm.