~ Vaibhav Ugale @FronlinerUV

In the dynamic landscape of modern warfare, nations across the globe are swiftly bolstering their arsenals with cutting-edge military technologies. From unmanned systems to direct energy weapons, from fifth-generation fighters to ramjet artillery, the arms race is relentless. Among these innovations, one technology shines prominently: The Loitering Munition. This compact yet powerful unmanned aerial vehicle is designed to carry a warhead and hover above the battlefield, meticulously identifying targets before striking decisively, leaving devastation in its wake. Continuously evolving, this system sees enhancements in range, avionics, propulsion, and warhead carrying capacity, showcased initially during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and now in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

In our previous article concerning loitering munitions, we explored the diverse array of these cutting-edge technologies and highlighted the significant contributions of Indian startups and MSMEs to their development. Now, our focus shifts to Artemon Aerospace, a bootstrapped Pune-based Defence startup dedicated to advancing loitering munitions for the Indian armed forces. Led by a dynamic trio, the company gained prominence during the IDEX Swavlamban 2023 event, where they showcased prototypes of their loitering munitions to the armed forces.

At the helm of Artemon Aerospace is Sushil Ghule and Saurabh Ghule, the founders and directors of the company. With a background in business management, Sushil Ghule founded the company in 2012 with the aim of developing niche unmanned aerial systems to support the armed forces. Joining him is Cdr. Sonal Saxena (Retd.), the Chief Business Development Officer, who brings extensive experience as an Aviation Engineer Officer and expertise in Defence management. Additionally, Cdr. Charith A V (Retd) serves as the Chief Technology Officer, leading the design and development of unmanned aerial systems at Artemon, drawing from his experience as a Joint Director at the Aeronautical Development Agency and the Indian Navy.

Alpha Defense recently had the opportunity to visit Artemon Aerospace, discussing the technologies under development, current project status, future roadmap, and support from the government and armed forces. The interview with Cdr Charith A.V. (Retd), the CTO, shed light on Artemon Aerospace’s pioneering efforts in the realm of Defence technology. Through this dialogue, it became evident that Artemon Aerospace is poised to make significant contributions to the Defence industry, leveraging innovation and expertise to meet the evolving needs of modern warfare.

Q1. Tell us about the journey of Artemon Aerospace.

Charith A.V.: We are delighted to have Alpha Defense at our premises and engage in this insightful conversation with you. Regarding Artemon Aerospace, it boasts a decade-long legacy and stands as a testament to the opportunities presented by initiatives like Make in India and various government initiatives in the Defence sector. Our founder, Sushil, harbored a profound vision to contribute meaningfully to the armed forces, prompting us to explore sectors where we could make a significant impact.

Upon thorough research, it became evident that aerospace, particularly unmanned aerial systems, offered the most promising avenue for our aspirations. By 2022, we had solidified our plans to enter this competitive yet dynamic space. Initially, our focus was on the loitering munition segment, aligned with our vision. However, as we delved deeper into unmanned aerial systems, we realized the need for a comprehensive air-launched effect system to truly make a valuable contribution to the Defence industry.

This realization led us to adopt a stepwise approach, with IDEX presenting a compelling opportunity. The challenge to develop a Sonobuoy tube-launched loitering munition for airborne vehicles provided the impetus to delve deeper into the business. As we embarked on parallel development of technologies, grassroots R&D became integral to our journey. Today, we are deeply entrenched in all aspects of unmanned aerial systems, driven by our ultimate vision of achieving an Air Launched Effect System.

Q2. What product portfolio is currently under development and planned to be pitched?

Charith A.V.: Initially, we began with a specific Sonobuoy tube-launched Loitering Munition, under the IDEX project. As we devoted significant time and effort to its development, our focus expanded to encompass the design of three distinct categories of loitering munitions. These categories are delineated by payload capacity: the first handles payloads ranging from one to two kilograms, the second accommodates payloads of two to four kilograms, and the third manages payloads of seven to eight kilograms. Each category offers varying ranges, contingent upon the propulsion system and fuel utilized, spanning from 20 to 150 kilometers. Notably, Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) capability is a key consideration, and we are currently conducting prototype flights within this operational regime.

In our quest for innovation, we’ve adopted two distinct propulsion systems for these loitering munitions: Electric Ducted Fan (EDF) and micro-turbojet engines. This delineates our first category of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Moving forward, our second category of UAS, with a Maximum Take-off Weight (MTOW) of 30 to 40 kilograms, is tailored to carry payloads of 10 to 15 kilograms, boasting an impressive endurance of 8 to 10 hours. Primarily targeted towards paramilitary and police forces, this category features Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) capabilities.

Furthermore, our third category, with an MTOW of 100 to 150 kilograms, employs a coaxial rotor system. Payload capacity ranges from 10 to 60 kilograms, depending on fuel considerations, with an anticipated endurance of 7 to 8 hours. As we continue to refine our designs, our ultimate vision encompasses the development of an air-launched effect system, currently in the design phase, poised to revolutionize aerial warfare.

Speaking specifically about the powerplant of the Co-axial system, it employs a proprietary and patented technology. While our prototype has demonstrated successful flights, further details regarding this technology will be disclosed at the launch of the product. Rest assured, we are leveraging proven technologies with impressive capabilities, underscoring our commitment to innovation and excellence.

Q.3 What is the USP of your products?

Charith A.V.: When it comes to our Loitering Munition, our key distinguishing factors are speed, range, and precision. Our munitions are canister-launched, enabling them to be portable, achieve exceptionally high speeds and cover extensive distances. This rapid velocity, coupled with extended ranges, makes our munitions highly resilient to interception and ensures they reach their targets effectively. Additionally, we prioritize precise terminal guidance, aiming for pinpoint accuracy upon impact, thus maximizing their operational effectiveness.

Now, shifting our focus to the Co-axial rotor UAV, its unique selling proposition lies in its remarkable compactness, primarily designed for ease of transport. Once the wings are folded, the UAV occupies a mere one and a half-meter diameter footprint.

Q.4 What’s the overall indigenous content percentage of your loitering munition?

Charith A.V.: Our loitering munition comprises approximately 63% indigenous content by components and 68% by cost. When it comes to the EDF power Loitering Munition, we take pride in our in-house design and 3D printing of the fan blades, which significantly boosts our indigenous efforts. However, for the micro-turbojet engine, we’ve opted to outsource it. This decision stems from our specific requirements for weight, thrust, and specific fuel consumption (SFC), which aren’t readily available in India. Consequently, this component accounts for 30% of non-indigenous content in our loitering munition.

Q.5 How is the Government of India supporting startups like Artemon Aerospace, and where do you see areas for improvement in this support?

Charith A.V.: Well, our journey truly gained momentum with our involvement in the IDEX project. We are immensely grateful for the opportunities extended by the government and the unwavering support from the armed forces. As our founder emphasized, it’s not just about financial grants; it’s the invaluable guidance and support provided by the government and the armed forces that truly empowers us. Their encouragement instills confidence and motivates us to channel all our efforts into developing cutting-edge systems. We are particularly pleased with the various channels through which the Indian government is fostering support, including initiatives like IDEX, ADITI, and other programs, along with the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) tailored for startups and MSMEs. This proactive approach to supporting entry into the Defence sector, historically dominated by major players, is commendable.

While we deeply appreciate the support provided by the government and Defence forces, there are certain areas where we believe improvements could be made. The benchmarks set in terms of equipment quality and technological aspirations are commendable, but there seems to be a slight mismatch in expectations. Developing state-of-the-art technology requires incremental steps; expecting startups or MSMEs to achieve groundbreaking advancements within tight timelines and limited resources is a significant challenge. Agility in technology adoption is crucial, but it’s essential to allow for gradual growth over 1-2 steps. Startups or MSMEs cannot single-handedly develop all technologies to achieve 100% indigenous content, nor can every system be at the forefront of global technological advancements from the outset.

We advocate for a more realistic timeframe, especially for development of systems requiring deep tech. It’s unrealistic to expect a startup or MSME to instantly compete with global leaders in technology development. However, despite these challenges, the government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, spearheaded by our Prime Minister, serves as a significant motivator. The extensive support and encouragement provided through this initiative are deeply appreciated, and we remain optimistic about the future.

Q.6 What is your opinion about companies that are rebadging or white labelling Chinese drones and selling them under the Make in India tag?

Charith A.V.: Well, when it comes to white labelling of products, it’s essential to consider the broader implications. Currently, we lack core technologies, such as propulsion or chip-level manufacturing, which are not yet developed in India. While some components and systems still need to be imported, I don’t see the necessity for white labelling them. By engaging in white labelling and promoting such practices, the companies involved are stifling the Indian market. Those investing in grassroots research and developing their own technologies are dedicating significant resources—money, time, and effort—to propel the growth of the industry. Conversely, those who resort to white labelling simply undercut this progress by importing products at cheaper rates. This practice undermines grassroots research and contradicts the principles of Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-Reliant India) and the Make in India initiative.

Sonal Saxena: In the short term, white labelling may appear to provide an immediate solution. However, in the medium and long term, when the supply chain dries up and technology becomes unavailable, we’ll find ourselves in a precarious situation. Without a robust ecosystem and indigenous technology, we’ll become entirely reliant on foreign suppliers. While the consequences of white labelling may not be immediately apparent, they will inevitably sever our supply lines in the future. Therefore, it’s imperative to avoid white labelling practices, as they pose a significant threat to our industry, ecosystem, and long-term sustainability.

Q.7 Can you share your future plans for Artemon Aerospace and offer some closing thoughts?

Charith A.V.: Absolutely. Artemon is incredibly excited about our foray into this space, and we’re pouring all our efforts into the development of the products we’ve discussed. As I mentioned earlier, our ultimate vision involves the creation of an air-launched effect system. I’m pleased to announce that within the next six months, we’ll be showcasing thoroughly tested systems that align with this vision. Additionally, we’re gearing up to launch 2-3 products across multiple categories very soon. These products are battle-ready and poised to make a significant impact in the Defence sector. We’re looking forward to an exciting future, both for Alpha Defense and Artemon Aerospace. As Artemon Aerospace continues its journey, the future holds promising developments. The company’s dedication to advancing loitering munitions and other unmanned aerial systems reflects a commitment to excellence and innovation. With upcoming product launches and a vision for an air-launched effect system, Artemon Aerospace is poised for a transformative impact in the Defence sector. We eagerly anticipate witnessing their continued success and contributions to the advancement of Defence technology.

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