What you’re looking at is the first public image of the Indian Army’s new cargo drone type, an MR-20, developed by Indian firm Raphe Mphibr. Last week the company was awarded an emergency procurement contract for 48 MR-20 hexacopter drones capable of ferrying loads of up to 20 kg each. The image above is from high altitude trials of the drone in Ladakh this year, the primary are where the drones will be deployed once supplies begin. Livefist learns the company has already given the Indian Army a small number of the drones for training and readiness before the fleet arrives starting later this year.
The MR-20 drones will be capable of ferrying food, essential items, emergency medical aid, ammunition and weapons to troops deployed at heights in forward areas. The Indian Army has already begun formulating protocols for drone use in crucial last mile logistics operations in a live operational threatre that has been active since May 2020 following en masse deployments by the Chinese Army along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh. While the Indian Army has, for a while now, been looking to put drones to work across a raft of tasks and functions for high altitude units, the emergency procurement is almost certain to have been triggered by China’s own use of such a capability. Drones ferrying hot meets to Chinese soldiers in Aksai Chin was part of a much-viewed propaganda video by the Chinese Army last year, designed to highlight the lack of such a capability on the Indian side.
The contract to Raphe Mphibr, part of a slew of drone procurements awarded to Indian startups and private firms, also includes orders for 2 sets of homogeneous swarm drones and 10 high endurance payload carrying drones for the Indian Navy.
In a statement shared with Livefist, Raphe Mphibr said, “They can operate in high altitude Himalayan areas of Siachen, be launched & recovered from submarines, drop combat payloads, influence low intensity conflicts, lift 100kg stores and can also be launched from the palm of the user. The drone operations are backed by novel algorithms that include indigenously developed artifical intelligence and machine learning driven features such as swarming & in-flight fault management. Real time monitoring and mission planning is made possible by ground support set up comprising of ground control stations, remote video terminals and ultra long range communication equipment.”
The company adds, “Raphe’s team has developed over 169 patentable technologies to support their UAV platforms. Novel carbon fiber composite materials developed at Raphe are light weight, robust and have superior thermal & electrical properties. The bio-inspired designs of airframes, high density electronics along with efficient and reliable software technologies render the Raphe’s UAV platforms their best-in-class efficiency, robustness and payload carrying capabilities. The novel algorithms such as distributed swarming, target detection & tracking and optimal energy control broadens the scope of applications of the UAV platforms for the Indian security forces.”
The military standoff with China a towering factor, 2021 has been a huge year for Indian drone firms. Things started big in January with the Indian Army handing a Rs 130 crore contract to drone pioneers ideaForge for their Switch tactical surveillance drones for Ladakh. The latest emergency procurement of swarm drones and cargo drones from Indian startups is a crucial foot in the door for small, tightly run companies functioning on the cutting edge of military software for drone operations. While the numbers ordered are small, they still represent a significant leap for a procurement ecosystem that’s heavily loaded against small Indian firms beyond supply chain relationships.