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Mumbai’s ideaForge wins global contract to deliver 200 UAVs to Indian Army

This is the largest number of such drones sold to the army but procurement policies still worry many companies and startups.

Source: ideaForge

ideaForge has bagged the contract for delivering 200 drones that are capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) to the Indian Army, the company announced in a press release on March 3.

As part of the two-year contract, ideaForge will deliver its 100 SWITCH UAV systems to the Indian Army in 2022, and the next 100 in 2023, to augment its surveillance capabilities. MediaNama reached out to ideaForge for insight into the monetary component of the contract, but the representative refused to divulge any information in that regard. Additionally, this is the third such contract that ideaForge has had with the Indian Army.

The release said that ideaForge won this contract after a global tender was floated, against stiff competition from Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and France. The representative said that the procurement process took five years to complete because of various compliance and regulatory requirements of the Indian Army.

This announcement comes a month after the Union Budget of 2022 wherein the Indian Government announced that 68% of its Defence Capital Procurement budget would be reserved for domestic organisations.

UAVs are indispensable for intelligence and surveillance reconnaissance: Defence official

“UAVs are indispensable for ISR. This procurement was a long and intensive procedure to procure the largest number of mini-VTOL UAVs,” a defence official was quoted as saying in the release.

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The release also added that in the last five years, the SWITCH UAV was the only system that passed the rigorous testing and fielding trials that the Indian Army requested.

What else does the SWITCH UAV do? According to a blog post by ideaForge, this Fixed-Wing VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) UAV can be deployed at high altitude and harsh environments for day and night surveillance in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

“ideaForge has engineered this product with the VTOL approach keeping in mind the terrain challenges in the operational areas of the Indian Army,” Ankit Mehta, ideaForge Co-Founder and CEO said. The drones can take off without a runway or can be launched from one’s hands, the release added.

ideaForge recently completed delivery of $20 million SWITCH 1.0 UAV contract

In January 2021, the Indian Army signed an approximately $20 million contract for undisclosed quantities of a high-altitude variant of ideaForge’s Switch UAV, a blog post by ideaForge said. The post said that ideaForge was awarded the 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.

In November 2021, another blog post by the company said Prime Minister Narendra Modi handed over the SWITCH UAV to the Indian Army. At that time, ideaForge was also given an additional order for the high altitude SWITCH UAV. “The said additional order also needs to be executed in the same timeframe as earlier, in order to help extend the capabilities augmented by the Indian Army under the first contract,” the blog added.

Procurement requirements, a big challenge for defence drone industry

The biggest challenge that defence drone companies or startups are facing currently is regarding procurement policies of the Indian Army. Although the barriers to entry in the commercial drone industry are low when it comes to supply, the defence requirements are high and complex.

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“Although the armed forces are encouraged to directly engage with startups, we have realised that it is challenging for MSMEs to work with the former. There are multiple reasons, but mainly they are commercial in nature — payment cycles, the requirement for financial guarantee and so on,” Avdhesh Khaitan of Kadet Defence Systems said. The company currently works as a subcontractor with the Indian Army on certain projects.

“Barriers in the commercial drone industry is usually very low and anybody can enter this space. However, when a company decides to supply drones for defence, complexity in terms of requirements, hostile conditions in which the operations have to be done, kicks in.” — Avdhesh Khaitan, Founder and CEO of Kadet Defence Systems

Wing Commander Sreedhar Pollu said, “The defence and government procurement policies should be really aligned to true indigenous and Made In India products. The user agencies should interact more transparently with the Industry and implement projects that can be undertaken from the concept stage in a much faster and efficient manner by channelising development funds directly to the industry entities. The procurement cycles also should be reduced in time frames and quicker procurements should be possible.”

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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