A Kanpur-based company has become India’s leading manufacturer of aerostructures – including wings and fuselage – for roving munitions, which are in high demand around the world following the instrumental role played by these armed drones in the war of Ongoing Ukraine and recent Armenia-Azerbaijan conflicts. , West Asia and Africa.

Lohia Aerospace Systems, a composites manufacturing company, has been asked by global OEMs to supply aerostructures and launch tubes for a range of roam munitions – also known as suicide drones – with sections ranging from 90cm to 3 meters and more depending on demand.

Previously considered “exotic weapons”, the “Drone Moment” in recent conflicts, especially the war in Ukraine, has driven the demand for ammo drones lurking in the global arms bazaar to around 15,000 pieces. , with pressure for rapid delivery in ongoing disputes. Market analysts interpret this as a threefold increase in demand.

“We are bound by strict confidentiality agreements with our customers,” Pavitra Goel, general manager of Lohia Aerospace Systems, told BW Businessworld when contacted for a response to market information.

The company has neither confirmed nor denied reports that it has the capacity to manufacture composite-based aerostructures for up to 500 loitering weapons per year at its Kanpur plant for export to global OEMs. Market estimates place the value of these aerostructures between $5,000 and $10,000 per unit. Lohia Aerospace is reported to have already achieved a turnover of around Rs 100 Crore ($13 million) in this segment alone.

Market sources also suggest that Lohia Aerospace could meet the persistent munitions aerostructure requirements for several Israeli OEMs such as IAI, Elbit and Uvision.

Specialization in composite materials

The Kanpur company entered the aerospace composites sector by acquiring the Israeli entity Light & Strong in 2019, and is known for supplying aerostructure sections for UAVs/drones manufactured by major Israeli OEMs like IAI, Blue Bird and Uvision, leveraging Light & Strong’s customer base and technology capability. Israel is a leading player in the drone category in the Indian market. The Indian Armed Forces operate fleets of Searcher and Heron drones and Harop and Harpy stray munitions.

After consolidating itself as a manufacturer of composites for military systems by setting up a “world-class facility” in Kanpur – which it calls “North India’s premier aerospace composites plant” – Lohia Aerospace is taking measures to evolve into a drone integrator. “We want a bird to fly out of Kanpur,” admits Goel.

While networking with global supply chains, Lohia is also poised to provide aerostructures for drones that the Indian Armed Forces may purchase or refurbish in the near future.

But it’s the surge in orders for stray ammunition globally that currently positions it at the heart of the arms bazaar. It produces carbon aerostructures and Kevlar canister tube launchers for these smart weapons.

Emergence of vagrant ammunition

Armed with small warheads, floating weapons fill a niche between cruise missiles and unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) at a fraction of the cost while combining features of both. Unlike cruise missiles, these linger or linger in the air, passively waiting up to 4 hours for a target. And these are distinct from UCAVs because they are meant to act like missiles with an integrated warhead and explode on a target. If a target is not engaged, any ammo lying around can be picked up. These provide an alternative to deploying high-value platforms, which can be vulnerable to enemy counterattacks.

These have been developed for roles ranging from relatively long-range strikes like suppressing enemy air defense (SEAD) to very short-range tactical fire support on the battlefield through systems that fit in a backpack.

Industry sources estimate that floating weapons with 2-4 kg warheads are up to six times cheaper than a missile, can wait for a target of opportunity while combining reconnaissance and attack functions , generate data up to the last second of detonation on the target, and can be fired by two soldiers at the level of a platoon.

System costs would be between $70,000 and $150,000. In comparison, a Javelin anti-tank guided missile shot would burn a $200,000 hole and the hit range would be less than 5 km.

The drone moment

The Ukraine War was a fundamental validation of the centrality of armed drones in contemporary and future warfare. The drones proved extremely effective in targeting Russian tanks, artillery, surface-to-air missile launchers and logistics columns – the latter proved particularly effective as the lack of fuel and spare parts led to the abandonment of a large number of armored vehicles by the Russians.

The performance of loitering weapons like the Switchblade 300 supplied by US Aero Environment is legendary. The Switchblade-Puma combination (reconnaissance drones) allowed the engagement of Russian tanks at a safe distance of 5 to 6 kilometers. Tanks with four-man crews seemed almost helpless against drone assaults. Some 500 Switchblade 300s have been supplied to the Ukrainians. With a battery life of 3-4 hours, it allows a targeting range of 100-150 km with enough time to hunt the target.

With India’s nearly two-decade-old military drone fleet and contemporary warfare emphasizing unmanned aerial vehicles, there is certainty of business opportunities for niche players like Lohia Aerospace, the first multinational composite manufacturing in India.

But Goel says Lohia isn’t just betting on defense cases. “We have established ourselves as suppliers of military products. But defense business is mostly about high-volume, short-burst orders. Therefore, we also serve the civil aerospace market,” he says.