Article by Shantanu K. Bansal
As per Science Direct, a swarm or fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is a set of aerial robots i.e., drones that work together to achieve a specific goal. In each swarm, every drone can have dedicated data collection and processing tasks with sufficient computing capability to execute these tasks in real-time. In addition, thanks to advance computing they are mostly interconnected and perform their tasks in unison.
The “Swarm of drones”- a small, smart and cheap platform can be used to launch kamikaze attacks on intended targets, the target could be a ship, radar, building or any important installation.
A swarm can consist of hundreds of small UAVs which can render any conventional Air Defence (AD) system overwhelmed with sheer number of crafts; making AD set-up almost paralyzed. It may be recalled that in January 2018, Russia’s Hmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility were attacked by 13 drone swarms launched by Islamist rebels.
The Intel Co. made a world record during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, China by launching a 1,200 drone swarm. This was however soon outdone by China’s Ehang Co. when it launched 1,374 drones during a show that was held as part of Labour Day celebrations at Xian, China.
The US Navy has already performed offensive swarm operations with its LOCUST drone swarm developed by Raytheon. The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has been working on a programme dubbed “Gremlins”- micro-drones the size and shape of missiles, designed to be dropped from planes and perform reconnaissance over vast areas.
It is reported that, under the Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) the US and India will jointly develop swarm drones and anti-drone systems – a significant step which would bring experts from both countries together to share knowledge.
The swarming technology will also allow navies to conduct similar operations at sea with help of small Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs). A Chinese technology company – Yunzhou Intelligence Technology (Yunzhou Tech) performed a demonstration in the Wanshan Archipelago with 56 autonomous USVs by equipping them with specially developed ‘autonomy modules’.
Besides, offensive role the concpet can also be utilised for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions. For E.g. AI equipped multiple drones can be launched in night with integrated infrared cameras for Special operations purposes, for E.g. to find terrorist hideouts.
These drones can also be used for EW operations for E.g. mimicking a standard fighter aircraft shape to deceive opponent’s radar. There is also a concept of Manned and Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) where a conventional fighter aircraft lead a swarm of drones and do coordinated operations.
As the UAVs proliferate, so the various types of anti-UAV systems are also been developed across the world. Reportedly, China is testing laser system for naval ships that can probably replace the Naval HHQ-10 Short-Range- Surface-to-Air Missile (SR-SAM) implying that the laser-based system may have a range of about 5 Km.
It was also reported that China is conducting test of short-range laser system to counter low-level aerial threats in Tibet. India’s DRDO has recently unveiled a compact mobile drone jammer systems which has range of 1.5Km.
The ‘Swarm of Drones’ is still a developing concept with enormous possibilities. Imagine swarms of undersea, surface, and aerial drones hunting submarines hidden in the vastness of the ocean. Or imagine hundreds of airborne drones darting through a major world city, seeking out targets and dosing them with chemical agent. Such attacks can performed by non-state actors also.
These imaginary scenarios are not yet reality, but they are quickly becoming so. ‘Swarm of Drone’ technology could have a significant impact on every area of military competition, from enhancing supply chains to delivering even small nuclear bombs.