The Hindustan Times reported on Monday that the Indian Army is looking to acquire two kinds of 'miniature' unmanned aerial vehicles. One type of UAV is the US-built RQ-11 UAV, meant to fly at altitudes of around 500 feet and provide intelligence about enemy positions and troop movements.
The other type of weapon eyed by the Indian Army is the FireFly 'loitering munition' built by Israel's Rafael. In simple language, a loitering munition is a UAV that carries a warhead to attack a target on the ground while flying over (‘loitering’) over the war zone.
Loitering munitions have been around for four decades now, with Israel considered to be the pioneer of such 'suicide' drones.
While the early generation of loitering munitions were meant to attack air defence radars, newer systems can hit multiple types of targets on the ground, including enemy personnel in entrenched positions. The Indian Air Force operates the Israeli-made Harpy loitering munition and its upgraded the version, the Harop. India is believed to have first purchased the Harop in 2009 in a deal worth $100 million, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Loitering munitions like the Harpy and Harop can loiter for up to six hours and have sophisticated sensors; the Harop has a 23kg warhead. In comparison, the FireFly drone has a total weight of 3kg, with a 350gm warhead, according to a Rafael brochure. The FireFly has two sets of rotors. Rafael claims a kit comprising 3 FireFly loitering munitions and their associated equipment weighs 15kg. The use of rotors, like a helicopter, negates the need for catapults or launch rockets to get the UAV airborne.
The FireFly can fit in a backpack. The battery-powered Firefly can conduct both surveillance and attack missions and can thus be recovered after use. According to Rafael, it has an endurance of 15 minutes when carrying a warhead. The endurance can be doubled if the warhead is replaced with a second battery.
The FireFly has a publicised range of 500metres for urban combat and a range of 1,000 metres for open areas. The FireFly can be controlled by a datalink by a soldier who has a tablet.
C4ISRNET, a US publication, traced the evolution of the FireFly to multiple conflicts, including the Six-Day War of 1967 between Israel and Arab nations. C4ISRNET reported recently "FireFly was designed over the last 15 years based on sketches produced as far back as the Six-Day War, when Israeli soldiers had to fight in the early morning amid trenches in Jerusalem during the Battle of Ammunition Hill. Also taken into account during the design period were Israel’s experiences fighting militants in close combat in urban areas, such as the Gaza Strip, as well as knowledge of the difficulties armies have faced in fighting in places like Mosul, Iraq, against the Islamic State group." Israel decided to buy the FireFly for its military in May this year. A Rafael official told C4ISRNET "targets [of FireFly] are insurgents or suppressing machine guns or a sniper".
Writing in India Defence Review in May this year, retired Lt General Prakash Katoch noted, "Loitering munitions can provide a breakthrough against enemies well protected by their surroundings, like built-up areas, as also top attacking tanks and armoured vehicles. These munitions are considered a mix of cruise missiles and drones. Loitering munitions can be launched by small body of infantry, giving them their own precision guided indirect firepower." Referring to small loitering munitions, Katoch wrote, they are "are technical solution to an age-old problem for hitting enemy on the other side of a hill shielded from observation or fire by terrain, like mortars in defiladed positions, or fly into windows to take out enemy positions during urban combat”.