International Conference on autonomous unmanned vehicles

Issue No. 5 | March 01-15, 2012By Air Marshal (Retd) B.K. Pandey

Organised by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) Bangalore, an ISO 9001:2008 certified multi-disciplinary organisation under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the second edition of International Conference on Autonomous Unmanned Vehicles (ICAUV 2012) was held at Eagleton Golf Resort, a picturesque locale on the outskirts of Bangalore. The two-day event on February 24 and 25, 2012, though largely focused on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), had dedicated sessions on unmanned ground and underwater vehicles.

As compared with the first edition of the conference held in April 2009, the number of participating nations this time round had gone up from eight to 15. In all there were around 400 participants from North and South America, Australia, Europe and Asia. The conference had four plenary sessions, six industry talks and 50 presentations on a range of subjects that covered every conceivable aspect of UAS. Participants from amongst the global aerospace majors included Northrop Grumman, a company that designed and built the Global Hawk, Raytheon which provided sensors and support equipment for the Hawk and Lockheed Martin whose Skunk Works has a range of futuristic projects on the anvil. Of special interest to the Indian Air Force (IAF) were the unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) under development that unfortunately is not available for offer to India on account of restrictions imposed by the Missile Technology Control Regime. A prototype of the UAV developed and flight tested by a team of students from Delhi Technological University with financial resources and support from Lockheed Martin, was displayed at the venue.

Notable amongst the speakers were Dr Siva S. Banda, Chief Scientist from US Air Force Research Laboratory who delivered the keynote address, system designers from Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, Saab of Sweden, EADS (France and Germany), Directors from International Civil Aviation Organisation and representatives of European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment. The technical sessions deliberated upon aero propulsion systems, flight and mission control systems, avionics systems, structural systems, unmanned ground vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles, mini and micro UAV systems, current and future trends as also operational experience with lessons drawn. Dedicated industry sessions were conducted on the second day to facilitate interaction and exploration of avenues for collaboration between DRDO and the global industry. Issues pertaining to the ongoing international programme related to certification of UAS and their integration in the air traffic management system in controlled civilian airspace and the imperative need for India to understand and actively participate in the formulation of regulatory procedures and practices. From the proceedings it was evident that despite the high level of automation already achieved, much work remained to be done in respect of technological advancement before unmanned aircraft can be integrated into civilian air traffic management system with the required degree of safety.

Apart from providing a platform for interaction amongst Indian and international UAS communities to forge strategic alliances between the two, to enable access to the evolving technologies, the conference provided an exposure to the representatives of the Indian armed forces to the latest developments, advancements and ongoing research in the United States, Europe and Israel, the leading players in this discipline. Presentations made by the ADE, the IAF and the Indian Navy also provided an insight into the progress made in related research and development in India, state of the industry, current capabilities and the potential market for different categories of UAS especially for the Indian armed forces as well as for civilian applications. But perhaps an important aspect of the exercise was the exposure to the opportunities available in the global market for the budding Indian UAS industry as well as the opportunity for the Indian operators to share and deliberate upon the operational experience gained and the lessons learnt by the major military powers that have accumulated vast experience in the deployment of a wide variety of UAS in the wars in Iraq and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Of particular relevance was the employment of UAS in the counter-terrorism role.

The scale on and the manner in which the event was organised was a clear expression of India’s understanding and appreciation of the capabilities that UAS have to offer for application both in the military and civilian regimes and the critical role this family of aerial platforms can play in the future.