India continues to participate in the arms race with its latest indigenous weapon tech, the ALS-50. It is an autonomous system developed by Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), designed for Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL), capable of operating in rugged terrain and at high altitudes.

Last Thursday, The Economic Times reported that India’s homegrown loitering munition had reached a significant milestone by accurately demonstrating its strike capability during tests conducted at the village of Pokhran. The successful trials marked yet another effort by the country’s military manufacturing industry, which has been working to develop solutions for the armed forces under the defense ministry’s policy initiative.

According to news reports, the ALS-50 can take off and land like a quadcopter before switching to a fixed-wing mode for long-distance travel. Its autonomous targeting system can be scaled up to increase range and payload capability and can also accurately identify and home into a pre-determined target. It is said to have a range of 1,000 km, a top speed of 190 km/h, and an endurance of six hours with approximately 23 kg of payload. Moreover, the loitering munition’s future development may include the incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and swarming capabilities.

However, for the time being, the Indian armed forces are looking for low-cost “suicide drones” that can effectively take down high-value targets such as command centers, missile launchers, and enemy armor.

Rise of Kamikazee Drones

“Kamikazee drones” is among the common drone features many armed forces worldwide sought, which was especially highlighted during the Russia-Ukraine War that broke out earlier this year.

One of the most recognized today is the American-made Switchblade loitering munitions developed and introduced by AeroVironment in 2011. It rose to prominence during the war in Afghanistan as close air support and is currently impacting the Ukrainian troops’ efforts to defend its homeland against Russian aggressors.

Rival countries China and Russia have also been working on building their versions of Switchblade drones. With India’s latest milestone for its ALLS 50, it seems a fourth player has officially entered the explosive loitering equipment race.

In early September, China demonstrated the FH-901 suicide drone, its version of Switchblade, following successful live-fire drills. In a video published by Chinese state-owned media, the Chinese kamikaze drone can be seen attacking and effectively destroying a tank target from above. Besides launching from the ground, the FH-901 can also be released by aircraft in the sky or by another larger drone, the Global Times reported.

The FH-901 has been noted to have close similarities with the AeroVironment Switchblade in terms of loitering altitudes and impact range. However, the former’s software remains a mystery, as the video alone doesn’t prove to have shown sophisticated technology, with many speculating that the accuracy was just a product of sound editing.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Switchblade version was revealed in August, dubbing it “twice as powerful” compared to the US-made Switchblade suicide drone.

Russian company Android Technics NPO has released its factsheet for the LAOP-500 drone during the Army 2022 defense expo held near Patriot park in Moscow. Accordingly, the Russian drone can be deployed against enemy personnel and unarmored or heavily armored vehicles.

Android Technics NPO claimed its LAOP-500 drone has twice the capacity of the original American version Switchblade 300 loitering munition. Nonetheless, as stated on its factsheet, the Russian drone can only hit targets within a five-kilometer range and up to 20 minutes of endurance, a feature that the Switchblade 300 munition doubles despite its 15-minute operational duration.

Furthermore, while the LAOP-500 is said to be more powerful than the Switchblade 300, there’s no hard evidence yet demonstrating this so-called fact. All there are claims, while the American Switchblades have been making proven and tested on the battlefield for years. Its Switchblade 600 variant has also been proven to have a range of up to 40 kilometers with an endurance of 40 minutes that can take down heavy-duty targets, which is way over the Russian drone’s claimed capabilities.

India’s Another Significant Milestone

The success of the live-fire testing of the ALS-50 drone marked another milestone for India’s efforts to improve and up its Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) industry. The country has been working on the development of its own UAV fleet as early as the 1990s under the initiative of the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).

So far, three of the four systems built have crashed, prompting the DRDO to import a wide range of Israeli-made drones, such as the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) Heron I, the Searcher MK II, and the Harop loitering munition, to serve as a benchmark.

Since then, the country has seen improvements with its homegrown development of military equipment—having to employ its first indigenous ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) UAV called SWITCH drone last year.

With its significant progress, India’s armed forces are looking to induct the ALS-50 into active service soon, the Economic Times reported.