Swarm Drone Warfare is Coming


The question really is not if, but when and where drone swarms, which is the next evolution of robotic warfare, will be utilised in real-time operations.


n early January 2018, Russian operators manning the extensive air defence network at Russia’s Khmeimim airbase in western Syria spotted 13 incoming drones at low level. As the Russian air defence operators engaged these drones with EW & SHORAD systems, it was clear to the Russians that they were witnessing a new genre of a collaborative drone attack.

The Russians shot down seven drones and jammed the remaining six in the nick of time. While the Islamic State and Afghan Taliban have used drones to deliver ad hoc explosive payloads, the failed attack on Khmeimim that evening was disturbing to close observers of drone warfare as the first recorded instance of a mass-drone attack by non-state actors in a combat operation. More drone attacks happened on the Russian facilities in Syria all through 2018, 2019 and 2020, with over 150 drones disabled by Russian AD in Syria till date.

On 14 September 2019, 25 massed drones in two waves attacked the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais. Analysis of satellite images of the Abqaiq facility before and after the attacks showed 19 individual strikes. What was noteworthy was that the Saudi air defence, including the potent MIM-104 Patriot and Crotale NGs failed to stop these waves of drones and cruise missiles. This demonstrates how a group of drones and cruise missiles coming from multiple directions can escape undetected for long and overwhelm conventional air defences.

Switch to the unmanned

An Armenian S-300 SAM battery near Stepanakert (inset) showing damage from a mass drone strike by Azerbaijan’s Israeli made Harop loitering munition UAVs |
An Armenian S-300 SAM battery near Stepanakert (inset) showing damage from a mass drone strike by Azerbaijan’s Israeli made Harop loitering munition UAVs |

However, the drone assaults on Khmeimim AFB and Saudi oil facilities, as well as coordinated use of drones in Ukraine, Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh display early flashes of evolution in future aerial warfare towards the concept of what is known as ‘drone swarming’. In particular, the mass drone attacks on Russian forces in Syria has highlighted the rampant danger that unmanned aircraft in a group increasingly pose, even in the hands of non-state actors. Such small drone teams, collaborating together, offer a game-changing capability for not only larger nations like the United States, Russia, China and Russia, but also small nations and non-state players, who will use the drone swarms in a highly asymmetric role. Very significantly, low cost unsophisticated drones working together and aiming for target saturation through numbers, impose a high cost penalty on the air defence elements.

While defences may be able to fend off a handful of these improvised drones executing a very loosely coordinated attack, a near peer-state competitor can field a much advanced, denser, more nimble, adaptable, and networked force.

Demystifying drone swarming

So what exactly is a drone swarm? Swarm robotics is an approach to the coordination of multiple autonomous robots as a system which consists of a large number of mostly physical robots, controlled by minimal human intervention. These exhibit collective self organising (SO) behaviour through interaction and cohesion between robots, as well as interaction of robots with the environment.

Swarming algorithms are empowered by biological studies of swarm behaviour of insects, fishes, birds and animals. Swarming R&D across the world is focussed on development of distributed artificial swarm intelligence capability, commodification of technology for lesser cost impact and increasing state of autonomy between the agents in a swarm.

While massed drones in spectacular light shows are all controlled centrally, in a true swarm, each of the drones flies itself following onboard AI to maintain formation and avoid collisions with algorithms mimicking nature — there is no true leader and follower, with all agents in a swarm having their own ‘mind’ able to undertake collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing. The benefit of such a swarm is that if one drone drops out — and a few appear to crash — the group can rearrange itself to continue undertaking the mission till the last UAV in air.

Over time as militaries have incorporated greater communications, training, and organisation — they were able to fight in an increasingly sophisticated manner, leveraging more advanced doctrinal forms, with each evolution superior to the previous. Today militaries predominantly conduct manoeuvre warfare. Here swarming would be the next evolution in warfare — with the swarms exhibiting the decentralised nature of melee combat, along with the mobility of manoeuvre warfare. They have varied levels of autonomy and artificial intelligence. The autonomy extends military reach into the well defended battlespace, operating with greater range and persistence than manned systems; while artificial intelligence ensures dangerous and suicidal missions, thus allowing more daring concepts of operation (CONOPs). Both provide greater success in face on increased threat levels and rapid penetration of contested airspace.

This switch to the unmanned is happening all across the world. And the most preferred route for delivery of a kinetic and non-kinetic payloads is via air. Traditionally, in airpower-heavy militaries like the United States, air operations have relied on increasingly capable multi-function manned aircraft to execute critical combat and non-combat missions over the decades. However, adversarial abilities to detect and engage these aircraft from longer ranges having improved are driving up the costs for vehicle design, operations and replacements. Thus an ability to send large numbers of small unmanned air systems (UASs) with coordinated and distributed capabilities, could provide militaries across the world with improved operational footprints at a much lower cost. These, embedded with manned elements, will effectively saturate adversary targets as a ‘system of systems’. Here Manned & Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) acts as a force multiplier with autonomy and collaboration and the warfighter’s role transforming to — commanding, rather than controlling a swarm. Once unleashed an armed, fully autonomous drone swarms (AFADS) with distributed AI will locate, identify, and attack targets without human intervention.

The AFADS will prove to be a game changer in the next generation battlefield |
The AFADS will prove to be a game changer in the next generation battlefield |

While new technologies, and in particular AI and edge computing, will drive drone swarms — the key element is still going to be the swarming software. Towards this, all collective behaviour can ideally be clubbed under the term ‘swarm’. However, collaborative autonomy has ‘three’ transformational echelons of behaviour — flocking, where a discernible number of UAVs execute abstract commands autonomously, but fall short of true swarm behaviour. UAVs attacking the Russians AFB in Syria and the Saudi oilfields utilised this echelon. Swarming, where a large numbers of UAVs aggregate entirely through swarming algorithms in real time and is the highest state of collaborative autonomy. Loyal Wingman utilise the collaborative autonomy either through emergent flocking or core swarming behaviour. These platforms will operate in MUM-T mode, flying at high speeds alongside fighter jets and carrying missiles, ISR and EW payloads. The Loyal Wingman will be expected to target ground installations and shoot down enemy aircraft, as well as survive against SAMs and electronic attacks in contested airspace.

Military swarming in the US

The United States is the world leader in swarm technology and has underway a host of swarming UAV and munition initiatives. It demonstrated the Perdix swarm in 2017. A trio of F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters release a total of 103 Perdix drones in air.

The drones formed up at a preselected point and then headed out to perform four different missions. Three of the missions involved hovering over a target while the fourth mission involved forming a 100-meter-wide circle in the sky. The demo showed Perdix’s collective distributed intelligence, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing abilities.

There are a many uses for such a drone swarm. The drones could be released by fighters to provide reconnaissance for troops on the ground, hunting enemy forces and reporting their location. They could also jam enemy communications, form a wide-area flying communications network, or provide persistent surveillance of a particular area. They could be loaded with small explosive charges and attack individual enemy soldiers. In air-to-air combat, they could spoof enemy radars on aircraft, ground vehicles, and missiles by pretending to be much larger targets.

The Perdix Swarm UAS demo in 2017 is a significant capability demo |
The Perdix Swarm UAS demo in 2017 is a significant capability demo |

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has also showcased the X-61A Gremlin air launched drones. The idea behind DARPA’s Gremlins program is to turn cargo aircraft like the C-130 into motherships capable of launching and retrieving swarms of small drones. This would open up a world of possibilities to the military, allowing deployment of swarms of small, inexpensive, reusable drones with different sensors and payloads from legacy aircraft.

The US Navy and Marine Corps’ Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program, which fires small UAVs from a tube-based launcher to conduct varied class of missions, is another swarm development underway.

The US Army is also working on drone swarms and Reinforcement Learning (RL)-based AI algorithms for use in tactical battlefield area in multi-domain battle scenario, where swarms will be dynamically coupled and coordinated with heterogeneous mobile platforms to overmatch enemy capabilities.

Employment of Reinforcement Learning Based architecture will enhance the efficiency of swarms |
Employment of Reinforcement Learning Based architecture will enhance the efficiency of swarms |

The US is also experimenting with collaborative smart munition delivery using the Cluster UAS Smart Munition for Missile Deployment where the payload can be launched and deployed from a GMLRS or ATACMS platform. The payload consists of multiple deployable smart UAVs capable of delivering small explosively formed penetrators (EFP) to designated targets. The USAF’s Golden Horde — part of the Vanguard initiative to develop next generation offensive technologies — will network munitions like Small Diameter Bombs (SDB) together to operate cooperatively after being launched according to a set of predetermined rules and thus increase effectiveness.

Further, the USAF’s ‘Skyborg’ initiative aims to design and deploy an artificially intelligent fleet of loyal wingman unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV). The Kratos XQ-58A, the Sierra 5GAT and Boeing’s ATS are undergoing development trials as part of Skyborg.

Military swarming across the world

On the other hand, the UK may have the world’s first operational swarm drone unit by the middle of 2021 to perform tasks including suicide missions inside enemy lines and overwhelming adversary air defences. The Royal Air Force’s №216 squadron has been tasked to test and deploy future drone swarm capability. The UK has also announced the Project Mosquito, which is a part of the RAF’s Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) unmanned loyal wingman program. This aims to fly a networked unmanned wingman by 2023.

UK has also tested an autonomous swarm of drones each carrying a variant of Leonardo’s BriteCloud expendable active decoy as an electronic warfare payload. Using the BriteClouds, which contain electronic warfare jammers, the drones were able to launch a mock non-kinetic attack on radars acting as surrogates for a notional enemy integrated air defence network

Airbus in France has demonstrated for the first time collaborative remote carrier (RC) swarms and wingman technology towards the Future Combat Air System (FCAS)/Systeme de Combat Arien du Futur (SCAF) program.

The Russians have had an extensive experience operating collaborative drones and countering the same in Ukraine and Syria. The last decade has upscaled UAV efforts in Russia and it aims to induct a large component of robotic vehicles in its military by 2025. It has an initiative called the ‘Flock 93’ which aims to operationalise a high density swam in coordinated saturation strike missions. Originally proposed by the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy and private industry, the concept involves simultaneously launching more than a 100 drones, each armed with a 5.5 pound warhead.

The Russians have also tested the S-70 Okhotnik UCAV in loyal wingman roles with its fighter jet fleet to penetrate adversary airspace. A lighter loyal wingman project with the designation Grom has also been unveiled by Russia in 2020. The Russians are aware of the lead in swarm autonomy which the US and China have, and are engaged in R&D and product development initiatives to close the gap in these niche areas in the coming decade.

Russia’s S-70 Okhotnik loyal wingman with a Su-57 fighter |
Russia’s S-70 Okhotnik loyal wingman with a Su-57 fighter |

The Chinese are the closest in matching the high density drone swarm capability of the United States and in many ways are replicating the US R&D initiatives with development of AI empowered autonomous drone swarms. Recently The China Academy of Electronics and Information Technology (CAEIT) tested a 48 x tube launched drone swarm of CH-901 UAVs. CAEIT in the past has demonstrated a 200 unit drone military swarm in 2017. Chinese companies have also demonstrated impressive swarms of 1,000 plus drones using quad-copter-type drones for large public displays, which however are ground controlled and do not have distributed intelligence.

The Chinese are undertaking integration of their existing UAV fleet in a robust collaborative autonomy role with the military. It also has a loyal wingman AVIC 601-S ‘Anjian’ under development, which will operate with the fourth and fifth generation PLAAF fighters platforms. Whatever the goals and state of China’s drone swarms developments are, its capability and potential threats are definitely real and rapidly evolving at a fast rate.

Other nations developing swarm technology are Israel, where details on such initiatives are closely guarded. However, given the nature of Israeli operational UAV usage over the years, there are reasons to believe that it matured and has been deployed on its fleet of UAVs and loiter munitions, some of which have been proven by disabling Syrian AD networks.

Interestingly, IAI offers a smartphone-based swarming command and control application for worldwide sales. Turkey, which has proven mature MALE UAV capabilities in Syria and Libya through locally made platforms like the TB-2, also has various swarm drone initiatives. Primary amongst them is the Kargu quadcopter which can be employed in kinetic attack roles in the tactical battlefield area. Turkey is vying to be a global UAV power in the days to come. However, the recent US sanctions on its defence industry is likely to curtail high technology induction from the West.

The Turkish Army has deployed 500 plus Kargu swarming drone systems for kinetic attack |
The Turkish Army has deployed 500 plus Kargu swarming drone systems for kinetic attack |

Iran is another middle eastern nation which has used drones in groups operationally. Iran has embraced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as a major pillar of its military strategy. Iranian authorities use drones for two main purposes — surveillance and attack, where Iran has the ability to conduct missions over the horizon and in most weather conditions. These include drones with the ability to drop bombs or launch missiles and return to base and ‘kamikaze’ drones that seek targets of opportunity.

Iranian authorities have had more success with the latter as was visible in the Saudi oilfield strikes in 2019, where Iranian made drones and cruise missiles were used. While baseline collaborative autonomy in terms of vehicle flocking may be available, both Iran and Turkey have not shown true distributed intelligence ability amongst their UAV swarms. But their efforts are a clear indication of how the technology is maturing and proliferating.

India’s swarm drone odyssey

In India, the Indian Air Force has been pioneering swarm drone research and development with its Meher Baba initiative since 2019. This is geared towards in depth humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations.

On the other edge of the spectrum, the Indian Army showed off a mature offensive capability with a swarm of 75 autonomous drones with distributed intelligence and edge computing, destroying a variety of simulated targets with kamikaze attacks during India’s Army Day parade in New Delhi in January 2021. In the demo, scout drones investigated the targets, then attack and mothership drones released payloads and explosive-laden kamikaze drones, which carried out the attacks. Western commentators noted several significant features of the Indian Army demonstration comparing it to the United States effort around drones, which often emphasises a large homogenous swarm. It was pointed out that India’s original work, which showcased a heterogenous swarm effort for the first time in the world in public — as the probable way forward in this domain. An Indian Start-up company NewSpace Research & Technologies is associated with the Indian Army on its swarm development program.

Indian Army demonstrated a 75 drone heterogenous swarm on Army Day 2021 in New Delhi |
Indian Army demonstrated a 75 drone heterogenous swarm on Army Day 2021 in New Delhi |

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in India has unveiled the Air Launched Flexible Asset (ALFA -S) air launched swarming drone system as part of it next generation Combat Air Teaming System (CATS). This is a unique program which utilises a network of air launched remote carriers and swarming units to penetrate contested airspace. The USAF’s Air Force Research Labs is collaborating on aspects of the ALFA-S with India. NewSpace Research & Technologies Pvt Ltd is also a partner in the HAL’s ALFA initiative.

Another component of HAL’s CATS program is the Warrior loyal wingman asset. This is geared for air defence and offensive strike missions and will be employed in a MUM-T role with India’s Tejas LCA and the upcoming AMCA fifth generation combat aircraft. What is noteworthy is that India is well driven by the power of indigenous research and the government’s ‘Make in India’ push to embrace disruptive technologies, which in some areas is at par with similar efforts happening across the world. HAL has unveiled the first 1:1 mock up of the Warrior in AeroIndia 2021 at Bengaluru.

The future is now

It is pertinent to note that while drone swarms may not be ready as an end state ‘product’, proliferation of basic swarming technology is inevitable in the coming decade across the world. Here advances in drone swarming, which is the next evolution of robotic warfare are mostly classified, though governments have given glimpses of their progress over the years. The question is not if, but when and where drone swarms will be utilised as part of a mature concept of operations (ConOps).

HAL’s CATS Warrior Unmanned Wingman has been unveiled at Aero India 2021 |
HAL’s CATS Warrior Unmanned Wingman has been unveiled at Aero India 2021 |

Swarming ConOps, a red herring for most nations, can only be matured with clinical and robust field trials utilising hundreds of heterogenous swarming units. It is this ‘scale and associated cost’ borne by the end user which will determine a dynamic adoption, meaningful way ahead towards operationalisation and acceptable timelines of induction towards exploited usage of swarms as true agents of warfare. It is here that countries like the United States and China have a distinct advantage over the rest of the world towards deployment of swarm drone capabilities across the spectrum of missions, at a scale which will tilt the balance in their favour in the digitally contested airspace of tomorrow.

- Credit S. Joshi


NAVIC - India's own GPS

With the launch of the seventh and last satellite of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) on Thursday, India joined a select club of countries with their own global positioning systems.


Mission Aditya-1 - After successful mission to Mars India gears up for Sun

When India launches its maiden Aditya-1 Mission, it will further illuminate our understanding of the sun

          Photo: Bruno Caimi
 Photo: Bruno Caimi
Though the sun marks the difference between a habitable world and a barren wasteland, we are only beginning to understand the various dynamics of our parent star. The yellow ball of gas that brightens up our days (and nights) shapes the physical processes on Earth and sustains our foodchain. Earth’s climate is governed by the sun and the sun’s variability is a hotly debated issue in climate science. For instance, the Little Ice Age of 1816 was the result of a mere one degree fall in global temperatures. “1816 came to be known as the year without summer. Crops failed to grow. In Ireland, a famine and a subsequent typhoid epidemic killed 65,000 people,” says Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything.

More than 20 international space missions are trying to understand sun’s structure and composition. Now India is gearing up to launch its maiden mission, Aditya-1, which will be launched in 2019-2020. More than 50 solar scientists from 10 institutions across the country are working round the clock to shield us from the impacts of unruly space weather and sun’s variability on Earth’s climate. When Aditya-1 is launched, India will join a select group, which includes USA, Japan and the European Space Agency, that have sent missions to the sun.
* NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration;
JAXA: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; ESA:
European Space Agency
* NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration; JAXA: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; ESA: European Space Agency
What Aditya-1 will study

“Our primary objective is to study the solar corona, processes leading to changes in it, and to understand what heats the corona. Observations of sun’s photosphere, chromosphere and corona are also possible,” says Deviprasad Karnik of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which is leading the mission.

The corona is the outermost layer of the sun’s atmosphere, preceded by the chromosphere and photosphere respectively. “The mission will provide a multipronged holistic approach to understanding some of the outstanding problems of solar physics,” says Karnik (see ‘Sun surfing’).

“We are in the process of designing the payloads. Aditya-1 will be launched from Sriharikota, an island off Sullurupeta, a sm-all town in Nellore district, Andhra Pradesh,” Karnik says.

The other institutes working on Aditya-1 include the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru, which is working on the Visible Emission Line Coronagraph (see interview), the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, which is working on the Aditya Solar Wind Particle Experiment and the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, which is working on Plasma Analyser Package for Aditya.

When the mission was first conceptualised in 2008, its launch was envisioned to coincide with solar maxima—a period of intense sun activity that occurs every 11 years. However, it was later decided that the satellite would be placed in a halo orbit around lagrangian point 1, which is 1.5 million km from Earth (where a satellite can maintain its position with respect to other bodies). “The initial concept was to put the coronagraph payload in a small satellite in an 800 km low Earth orbit. Aditya-1 is an updated version of the original Aditya mission with six additional payloads,” adds Karnik.

The advantages of placing the satellite in a halo orbit are many. Situated outside Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere, it remains unaffected by Earth. A halo orbit also ensures that there is no occultation for the spacecraft’s line of sight. Moreover, a satellite placed in a halo orbit experiences much less mechanical and thermal disturbances, and is, therefore, more stable.

What past missions have found

Other sun missions have added gravity to our understanding of the sun. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a collaboration between the European Space Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), celebrated its 20th anniversary on December 2, 2015. “SOHO changed our popular view of the sun from a picture of a static, unchanging object in the sky to the dynamic beast it is. It showed us what we had never seen before. We realised we need more eyes on the sun,” says Bernhard Fleck, a project scientist with SOHO.

This gave birth to a plethora of space-based solar observatories: Hinode, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph and the Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory. NASA’s SDO has been recording the sun’s dynamic solar activity since its launch on November 2, 2011 (see ‘Light alight’).

“The scientific objective of the SDO mission was to understand the lifecycle of the solar magnetic field. We wanted to understand how the sun’s magnetic field is generated, how it moves around the sun, and how it is destroyed. With this understanding, we sought to develop the science needed to predict solar activity,” says Dean Pesnell, a project scientist with SDO.


ASPEX: Will study the variation, distribution and spectral characterstic of solar wind
WHY: Solar wind can affect our power lines, communication satellites and high altitude spacecraft

VELC: Will study the parameters of the solar corona and origin of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs)
WHY: CMEs can collide with Earth's magnetic field and change its shape

SUIT: Will image the photosphere and chromosphere in UV range
WHY: A better understanding can help us keep track solar flares emanating from the photosphere

SoLEXS: Will monitor X-ray flares to study the heating mechanism of the corona
WHY: Energy from X-ray flare can disrupt radio waves, causing blackouts in navigation and communications signals

PAPA: Will study the composition of solar wind and its energy distribution
WHY: Solar wind can disrupt communication and navigation satellites

HEL1OS: Will observe the dymanic events in the corona and estimate the energy used to accelerate the particles during the eruptive events
WHY: An estimate of the energy can help us shield ourselves in an effective and timely manner
Predicting solar activity assumes immense significance. On the night of September 2, 1859, the world woke up to red, green and purple auroras that had erupted nearly everywhere on Earth and not just at the poles where they are a characteristic feature. Telegraph systems were disrupted as the world witnessed its first recorded solar flare, also known as the solar storm of 1859. And as recently as on July 23, 2012, a solar storm, touted to be as strong as the one in 1859, was predicted. Fortunately, we missed it by a week—Earth had moved ahead in its orbit.

Disruptions in the solar atmosphere and surface can also cause a flurry of solar activity that affects space weather. A better understanding of the sun can also help in aeronautics (high-altitude aircraft exposure to radiation), astronautics (radiation threat to astronauts and spacecrafts) and technology infrastructure development (effects of radiation on communication satellites).

As new frontiers in scientific enquiry are being conquered, they are only throwing up more questions. “The next frontier in our understanding of the sun is to measure its polar regions with the same instrumentation we use near the equator. At present, we have very few measurements from above the poles,” says Pesnell. “Better predictions will lead to a more cost-effective response. Power plants that will be affected can be isolated; satellites can be tuned to power off sensitive high-voltage components, and, astronauts in deep space can get into a safe shelter before the danger arrives,” adds Pesnell.

Aditya-1 will hopefully reveal, among other things, why the solar corona heats up to temperatures of a million degrees or so, much higher than the visible outer layer of the sun’s surface—the photosphere. Findings that will unlock the secrets to our understanding of our parent star.
`Aditya-1 will take images every second'
Dipankar Banerjee of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru, which is one of the institutions working on Mission Aditya-1, speaks to Down To Earth

What specific area of the mission is the IIA working on? 

IIA is making the Visible Emission Line Coronagraph (VELC), which is one of the main payloads. Coronagraph creates an artificial total solar eclipse in space by blocking the sunlight by an occultor. This telescope will have capabilities of spectral imaging of the corona in visible and infra-red. We are in phase 1 of the mission. Design and review are almost complete.

What is going to be the payload capacity of the mission?

The coronagraph is the biggest payload occupying 60 per cent of weight of the instruments on board Aditya-1. Using this payload, we want to study the dynamic changes in the sun.

How is Aditya-1 different from previous missions to the sun?

Aditya-1 is a multi-wavelength observatory which will look at different layers of the solar atmosphere. Aditya-1 is different in many ways. Take NASA's STEREO. It has two coronagraphs and one imager. The coronagraphs on board STEREO take images every 10 minutes, and probes only at the outer corona. Aditya-1's VELC, on the other hand, will look at the inner corona and will take images every second.


Eyes in the sky

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is all set to launch a new earth observatory named CartoSat-2C in May. The satellite built for military purposes will blast off using the renowned PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle). After the launch, India will join the ranks of China and USA who have their own spy satellites to monitor activities on Earth from space.
Indian space scientists built the satellite at the Space Applications Centre  (SAC) in Ahmedabad. Several rounds of tests were performed to check the durability and functioning of the satellite. Two weeks ago, CartoSat-2C was shifted to ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) at Bengaluru. India’s first dedicated military satellite — CartoSat-2A was launched in 2007 and since then it has given very sensitive and highly classified information including the missile launches in the neighbourhood.
According to the official report, the satellite weighs 690 kilogram. The high-resolution multi-spectral instrument and Panchromatic Camera will enable the satellite to capture some stunning high-resolution images. Previous military satellite had the resolution of 0.8 metre while the new camera installed on the CartoSat-2C has a resolution of 0.65 which means that it can spot even smaller objects from space. What’s striking about the camera of the new satellite is that it has the capability to record videos, process it to reduce size of the file and then beam it back to the Earth.
CartoSat-2C will blast off along with 21 other satellites using PSLV rocket in May this year. It will be placed in a sun-synchronous polar orbit at a low-earth altitude of about 200-1,200 kms above the Earth’s surface. Once launched, it will be one of the finest eyes present in space.
ISRO officials describe this satellite “as one of the best eyes in space” that India has launched till date. The strength of the camera installed in this home-grown satellite is almost at par with the ones possessed by US and China. For instance, in 2014, the Chinese had set a remote sensing satellite “Yaogan 24” which had a similar camera of 0.65 metre resolution. The panchromatic imagers can not only be used for surveillance, but can also aid in disaster monitoring. It will also click images that can give an idea of temperatures of a particular location in comparison with the surrounding areas. Cartosat-2C is expected to be launched along with 21 other satellites in May using a PSLV rocket. It will be placed in a sun-synchronous polar orbit at a low-earth altitude of about 200-1,200 kms above the Earth’s surface. - See more at:

Indian Nuclear Submarine fully operational with 3500 Km range SLBM

India has secretly conducted the maiden test of its nuclear capable undersea ballistic missile, code named K-4, from homegrown submarine INS Arihant at an undisclosed location in the Bay of Bengal.
The test conducted on March 31 nearly 45 nautical miles away from Vishakhapatnam coast in Andhra Pradesh was highly successful. The indigenously developed weapon with a dummy payload was reportedly launched from the submarine in full operational configuration. 


Intermediate Range SLBM
Operational Range – 3,500 km
Length – 12 meter
Width – 1.3 meter
Weight – 17 tonne
Warhead – 2,000 kg
Engine – Solid fueled
Accuracy – Near zero CEP
The trial was carried out with the support of the personnel of Strategic Forces Command (SFC) while the DRDO provided all logistics. The missile was fired from 20-meter deep and it pierced into the sky after breaking the water surface. INS Arihant had first successfully fired a prototype of K-15 (B-05) missile in November last year.
The K-4 missile was fired from onboard silos of the ship submersible ballistic, nuclear (SSBN) submarine demonstrating the capability of the newly built underwater warship to fire long range nuclear capable missiles and the killing efficiency of the most advanced state-of-the-art weapon system.
“Having an operational range of nearly 3,500 km, the missile was fired towards north for a shorter range. It covered more than 700 km before zeroing on the target with high accuracy reaching close to zero circular error probability (CEP),” informed the source.
On March 7, this missile was test fired from a submerged pontoon (replica of a submarine) positioned nearly 30 feet deep sea offshore Vizag coast. Although, the DRDO didn’t officially confirm about the secret mission, it was learnt that the test was a roaring success.
Even as the DRDO had reportedly conducted the first test of the missile system, which was developed under a secret project, in 2010, it officially admitted to have a missile named K-4 with a video footage of the missile launch in the Aero-India show in January last year.
Reports indicated the K-4 missile with the features of boost-glide flight profiles is designed to defeat any anti-ballistic missile systems. Equipped with the satellite updates to modify accumulated errors from its inertial navigation system, the weapon system is claimed to be quite dangerous and one of its kind in the world.
The 111-metre-long INS Arihant has four vertical launch tubes, which are capable of carrying 6 torpedoes of 533 mm and 12 B-05 (K-15) missiles or 4 K-4 missiles.
Powered by an 85 MW capacity nuclear reactor with enriched uranium fuel, this submarine can achieve surface speeds of 12 knots to 15 knots, and submerged speeds of up to 24 knots, carrying a crew of 95.
Apart from Arihant, the K-4 will also arm another Arihant class submarine INS Aridhaman which is currently under construction along with two others. These submarines will have eight launch tubes each.
India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has once again test-fired the K-4 nuclear-capable submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM)–this time from aboard the Indian Navy’s indigenously built nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant, the first submarine in its class.  In March 2016, DRDO had successfully tested the K-4 from a submerged platform in the Bay of Bengal.
According to the New Indian Express, the Arihant-based K-4 test was “conducted on March 31 nearly 45 nautical miles away from Vishakhapatnam coast in Andhra Pradesh.” The K-4 missile was fired from theArihant‘s onboard SLBM silos.
India’s K-4 is an intermediate-range, nuclear-capable, submarine-launched ballistic missile. Though official details remain scarce given the project’s sensitivity, most estimates place the K-4′s range at roughly 3,500 kilometers. Recent testing of the K-4 has sought to test the full operational range of the missile. The DRDO scientists’ purported aim this week is to test the full operational range of the missile. During a previous test in March 2014, where the weapon was ejected from the submerged pontoon by a powerful gas generator, the K-4 was only tested to a range of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles). In addition to its range, recent testing as sought to test the SLBM’s accuracy. Claims by DRDO scientists and publicly available information on the system suggest that the K-4 is a highly accurate system. As Franz has discussed, DRDO scientists have boasted that the K-4 has “near zero circular error probability” and uses “a Ringer Laser Gyro Inertial navigation system.”
The K-4, along with the K-15 Sagarika SLBM, will give the Arihant-class of nuclear submarines their nuclear strike capabilities, allowing India to field an undersea nuclear deterrent capability. The K-15 has a considerably shorter range than  the K-4. At a maximum strike range of approximately 750 kilometers, Arihant-class submarines would have to move close to enemy shores to successfully deploy the K-15 SLBMs, increasing the odds of detection. The intermediate-range K-4 helps rectify this shortcoming. The K-4 is capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear payloads in excess of 2,000 kilograms.
The Indian Navy anticipates commissioning the first Arihant-class submarine in 2016. The Indian Navy anticipates eventually fielding a force of three to six Arihant-class submarines. INS Aridhaman, in construction, will be the second submarine of the Arihant-class. Each submarine will be able to carry 12 K-5 Sagarika missiles and 4 K-4 SLBMs. With the Arihant‘s commissioning, the Indian Navy will join the navies of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China in operating nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.


INS Arihant - India's nuclear submarine inducted

Arihant has completed all tests including deep dive and weapon firing tests past five months in secrecy. Two more such SSBNs with bigger payloads, more advanced features and size are already under construction with two more planned for a total of five. India does not have a submarine rescue vehicle hence Russian Prut class vessel Epron accompanied Arihant for the deep dive tests. Arihant submarine can carry K4 missiles equipped with nuclear weapons, MIRV possibility, with a range of 3500 KM. This manoeuvrable missile having an innovative system of interlacing in three dimensions can also cruise at hypersonic speed. This exceptional feature of the weapon system makes it difficult to be tracked easily and destroyed by any anti-ballistic missile defence systems. The missile has a high accuracy of near-zero circular error probable. India has so far planned three missiles in the K-series. While the 700-km range K-15, renamed as B-05 (launched 10 times) and 3,500-km range K-4 have been developed, the K-5 will have a striking capability of over 5,000 km. All the K-series missiles are faster, lighter and stealthier. India currently operates one nuclear submarine INS Chakra, Akula class SSN leased from Russia.


India achieves milestone: a big cryogenic engine is tested

Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) on Tuesday created a quiet bang that would soon propel India into a bigger league of nations launching satellites weighing up to five tonnes. 

In a silent operation at the Mahendragiri test facility, Isro successfully test-fired the indigenous cryogenic engine CE-20 for 645 seconds. This marks a milestone in the country's effort to develop a big cryogenic engine to fly the ambitious GSLV-Mark III by the end of 2016. 

In the absence of a proven indigenous cryogenic engine, India has been dependent on foreign space agencies like Arianne for the launch of heavy communication satellites. India's ambitious manned space programme also rests on the shoulders of GSLV-Mark III. 

A senior space scientist told that the 645-second test is a big boost since shorter duration tests did not put the engine to a complete resilience test. "This means that we will be ready for a stage test (after integrating the engine with the upper stage) in six months. If everything goes right, we should be able to fly a GSLV-Mark III by the end of next year," said the scientist. 

But there are challenges. "Soon we will have to do a high altitude test, simulating low pressure atmosphere on ground to see how the engine behaves," said the scientist. Cryogenic technology has remained a challenge for all space-faring nations because of its complexity. A cryogenic engine uses Hydrogen as fuel, stored at minus 253 degrees Celsius and liquid oxygen as oxidizer at minus 183 degrees Celsius. 

So far India's GSLVs were being powered by cryogenic engines given by Russia. Of the seven such engines, Isro has used up six. India's first attempt with an indigenous cryogenic engine was a failure. The second flight was a success, but that engine had a much lower thrust, about seven tonnes. 

"CE-20 will be our trump card," said an engineer associated with India's programme for more than 20 years. "If we can fly GSLV-MIII by next year, we will not just be self-sufficient, but also be able to rake in big monies by doing commercial launches for other countries."