–Alan Jai Kuriako
During the Aero India 2021, HAL had showcased its hallmark Drone programme the CATS (Combined Air Teaming System). People did not focus much on pseudo satellites like CATS Infinity as on CATS Hunter and the CATS Warrior. This probably was because people weren’t aware of the full extent of the capabilities of the system.
What is CATS Infinity?
The Infinity drone is a pseudo satellite. Its basic function is to orbit a predetermined position at extremely high altitudes (65,000ft). It makes use of self-generating power (solar panels) in most cases. This enables it to remain aloft for extended periods of time (up to 3 months). The discharge capacity of the embedded batteries is the only factor that limits their endurance. One discharge cycle the time for the battery to fully discharge and charge again using solar panels. So, the battery will be completely used up when its discharge capacity is over. However, the fact that these drones have long periods of loiter time is the greatest advantage. This unlocks a lot of potential uses for this system.
Military Applications of pseudo satellites
The Indian military can expect a huge boost in communications with the usage of a HALE drone as it can patch up communication vacuum zones that have been persistent sue to hostile terrains (such as the Himalayas). They can link dispersed special forces units, mountain regiments as well as units operating in jungles with their base stations.
A network of pseudo satellites can also link up base camps as well as their main headquarters/logistics bases so that communication becomes more transparent and in real time. This will speed up the flow of information in the operations of the Indian armed forces.
Surveillance & Post Damage Assessment
At an altitude of 65000ft, these HALE drones are hard to detect and counter with surface to air missile systems. The fact that these drones have high endurance periods also provides an added value in surveillance. These drones can stay aloft for months at a time, surveying positions of interest for the armed forces. This is essential when it comes to tracking terrorist hideouts as well as border surveillance. A network of drones can keep a constant watch on fixed points of interest, unlike satellites which either have to orbit back to position or have to be repositioned (takes up a significant amount of fuel). A HALE drone is also cheaper (thus more expendable) than a satellite and therefore much easier to lose to a missile attack.
Documentation of strikes like the Balakot air-strikes will be better in the future. This is because these drones could loiter around the area during the entire period of the operations for post damage assessment. They can survey areas before an armored column moves through it in order to provide advanced warnings beforehand. Another area of interest is in conducting firing corrections for artillery systems without the enemy even realizing the presence of the drone. This will improve the accuracy of strikes as it gives the Indian armed forces unparalleled situational awareness.
Control of UGVs
As robotic technology improves, the age of unmanned ground vehicles being heavily used in armed forces deployments is not too far. There are already multiple systems in planning stage such as Muntra family, MARS/MASS family of UGVs by DRDO. These will aid the Indian Army in future missions such as armed cover, sentry duty, mule for soldiers, recon system, etc.
However, as seen in the Uran-9 UGV from Russia, the biggest issue with these UGVs are the communication glitches that occur when these UGVs venture out too far. This can be solved using these HALE drones which can provide constant relay between the UGV and its base station, no matter what the weather conditions are. This could fundamentally change the range and new applications of UGVs.
Civilian Applications of pseudo satellites
Replacement of Satellites
Satellite technology is getting extremely advanced by the day. Satellites that used to be the size of cars have the same level of technology coming up in much smaller forms (nano and micro satellites). Therefore, only highly exotic satellites are of larger sizes while a significant proportion are these micro and nano satellites. With companies such as ISRO and SpaceX launching micro and nano satellites in a stacked format in their launch vehicles, it is becoming much easier to launch satellites into space.
This also means that orbits around the Earth is becoming highly saturated with space junk as well as human made satellites. One way to resolve this issue is to replace much of the common satellites with pseudo satellites (HALE drones) instead. There are many benefits of using pseudo satellites which includes:
- Constant orbiting of a singular spot (essential in continuous communication) unlike most satellites that has to orbit around the Earth.
- Removal of the system whenever needed for upgrades or for emergencies.
- Easier to network between pseudo satellites to increase accessibility to internet and communications.
India can reduce the need to build a physical 5G network by instead having a network of pseudo satellites that directly provides internet connectivity to remote communities. There are already several projects like this including Facebook’s Aquila and Google Loon which have not exactly worked out but there is still good scope for future viability for these projects so long as government support is given.
In conclusion, there is a new revolution underway in the drone space and it is non-other than these pseudo-satellites. These will revolutionize the next generation of drone technology and are worth looking out for.
Interested about the various aspects of HAL CATS system? Read here https://alphadefense.in/cats-combat-air-teaming-system/
Interested about AMCA – India’s Indigenous 5th gen aircraft? Read here https://alphadefense.in/amca-and-where-it-stands-as-of-now/