In what can only be interpreted as the Indian Army choosing to closing the door firmly on foreign drone products that were inbound to meet a basic long-standing infantry requirement at high altitudes, the Indian Army has just awarded a landmark $20 million (nearly ₹140 crore) contract to Indian drone maker ideaForge for an undisclosed number of its SWITCH tactical drones for use by infantry troops and special forces deployed at high altitudes.
The number of SWITCH drones to be supplied is likely in the hundreds, with each 6.5 kg unmanned air vehicle capable of vertical take-off, conventional flight, 2-hour endurance and surveillance out to 15 km from altitudes of 4,000 meters. Proven across several rounds of trials, and competing against foreign offerings, the Indian SWITCH drones, built in Maharashtra, will be delivered to the Army very quickly under fast track protocols, with the order completed over the next year. The drones will be deployed on priority to Indian Army troops and special forces units deployed across the friction points of eastern Ladakh.
While the Indian armed forces have inducted ideaForge drones in the past, this is by far the biggest single order the company has landed. The fact that the contract is from its single biggest potential customer is major affirmation for the company, the ‘Buy Indian’ ideal and the big validation this will trigger for exports of Indian drone products.
In July this year, Livefist interviewed IdeaForge CEO Ankit Mehta at a time when the Switch was in trials and under consideration by the Army. Today’s contract reveal is the end result of those trials held in Ladakh. IdeaForge’s SWITCH was chosen over offerings from India’s Tata Group, Dynamatic Technologies Ltd (DTL), VTOL Aviation and Israel’s Elbit. While not certain, the contract award potentially brings to an end a long-standing push to import 200 U.S-built RQ-11 Raven infantry drones.
“ideaForge has been awarded this 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. The contract marks a strategic shift in the Indian defence procurement process as the Indian Army goes on an aggressive modernization drive. It has also cemented ideaForge’s position as India’s largest manufacturer of drones for defence, homeland security and industrial applications,” the company said in a statement shared with Livefist.
According to IdeaForge, the Switch is a VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) drone that can be deployed at high altitude and harsh environments for day and night surveillance in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, with the highest time on target compared to any other UAV in its class.
Speaking on the landmark contract, Mehta said in a statement shared first with Livefist, “SWITCH UAV is the culmination of insights and knowledge we have gained over years of experience in helping the Indian Forces operationalize UAVs in their ranks. The trials saw about a dozen national and global players compete to meet the operational requirements. SWITCH UAV is the only product that cleared the Indian Army’s stringent product trials and surpassed expectations. It is a testimony of the fact that our systems are built like a bird and tested like a tank. Our systems are fully ready to serve nations that seek to protect their territorial sovereignty.”
Today’s contract also settles suspicions that the Indian Army planned to import tactical drones, instead of induct indigenous products that met all requirements. In July this year, Livefist had reported on how the Army had sought information from foreign vendors for a fast-track procurement of high altitude drones. You can read that detailed report here.
“A combination of world-class technology and a deep understanding of customer requirements has resulted in ideaForge bagging this contract against global competition. With the backing of reputed institutional investors such as WRVI, Infosys and Qualcomm, ideaForge is all set to grow rapidly. We plan to work with like-minded investors and partners to achieve our vision of premier drone company serving enterprise, security and surveillance market globally”, said Ganapathy Subramaniam, Partner with WRVI Venture Capital who also serves as Executive Chairman at ideaForge.