India is reportedly testing a popular Polish-made loitering munition, the Warmate, at Ladakh on the frontier with China. The same unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is also used by Ukraine in its war with Russia, targeting small troops detachments and lightly armored bunkers.
However, according to multiple Russian Telegram groups, the drone has been shot down numerous times and even captured for reverse engineering. Incidentally, an Iranian kamikaze drone that Tehran unveiled two months ago is similar in design to the Warmate.
Ladakh has seen a resumption of India-China tensions, especially since the discovery of tunnels in the mountains in Aksai Chin in satellite images. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is believed to store ammunition and command and control centers there.
Such highly protected facilities that are less likely to be destroyed in enemy artillery or missile strikes lend massive strategic advantages to an army.
While a small tactical loitering kamikaze drone can do minor damage to a facility like this, it bares India’s efforts in acquiring drones for both surveillance and attack purposes since it was surprised by China in eastern Ladakh in May 2020.
China has a more extensive inventory of various UAVs, singular and swarm designs, for purposes ranging from surveillance and attacks to transporting light logistical supplies.
Warmate Being Tested by the Indian Army
A video on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) shows the Warmate flying overhead in multiple flypasts and undertaking two belly landings in the dusty and barren Ladakh terrain.
It is unclear if belly landings are the actual mode of recovery or if it is an alternative that can be customized depending on the requirements and surroundings.
A report on Republic World said that the Warmate has been “newly inducted” and “undergoing trials” in Ladakh. Details on the number of drones bought and other commercial aspects are unknown.
It operates within a range of 30 kilometers via line-of-sight (LOS). It can reach 80 kilometers an hour, powered by an electric motor. The drone has a wingspan of 1.6 meters, a fuselage length of 1.1 meters, and a maximum take-off weight of 5.7 kilograms.
Operating at altitudes ranging from 150 to 300 meters above mean sea level, the system supports various warhead types, including High Explosive and Thermobaric. It can reach a maximum speed of 150 km. The drone is semi-autonomous and ‘loiters’ around a target area. Integrated control modules and surveillance subsystems allow the operator to retain control for executing an attack.
India also operates other loitering munitions like the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) Harop and the indigenously developed Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) vertical take-off landing (VTOL) drone. It received 100 units of the latter in March.
Warmate’s Mass Manufacture, Supporting ISR Drones
Many kamikaze drones are also used as basic Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms capable of calling off the attack and returning to the operator. In some situations, they can quickly view a small tactical scenario. A tertiary role could be artillery fire correction without other dedicated heavy or light-class surveillance drones with more advanced optical systems and sensors.
In Ukraine, the several dozen videos of the Lancet-3 loitering munition strikes released by the Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) have both feed from the attacking drone’s nose CCD camera that cuts just before the hit and a video from another overhead drone that records the strike – in this case the Orlan series of ISR drones.
Finally some footage 💣
Warmate Loitering Munition during field testing in Ladakh.
— Singh (@Duorope) August 29, 2023
They serve both publicity and actual tactical battlefield purposes. In the latter, the overhead drone confirms the strike’s impact and the post-attack damage assessment, following which crews decide whether to undertake a second strike. This could be through another kamikaze drone strike or artillery fire, coordinates for which could be acquired from the overhead drone. It also continually shows the surrounding target area situation as to how an enemy unit reacts following the strike.
Lastly, it provides crucial input on the loitering munition’s aerodynamic and strike performance, which informs upgrade programs and tweaks. By mid-March, RIA Novosti had reported a new version of the ZALA Lancet, a new optoelectronic guidance system, and a control system with new software and improved controllability.
It is unclear if the Indian Army is also considering other light ISR drones to work in concert with the Warmate. However, such a pairing is necessary for the concept to function optimally. Whether the Warmate has been purchased off-the-shelf from Poland’s WB Electronics and involves collaborative manufacture within India is unknown.
However, localized manufacturing allows production to be quickly scaled up during the war, have a sizeable attritable inventory that will continue having battlefield impacts, and not lose the advantage once the fleet has been expended. The local manufacturer (in this case, India) can also make tweaks and modifications following its operational experience.
Russia Captured Warmate, Iran Cloned Them
On May 10, Russian defense analysis portal Rybar reported that Russian “technical enterprises have also received boards and parts” from downed UAVs like the Warmate (among other drones) for reverse engineering.
The last reported Warmate engagement with Russian forces, as per leading Russian military blogger channels on Telegram, was on April 21. The handles said that the UAV had crashed around Russian units without detonating. The failure to explode was attributed to “effective Russian Electronic Warfare (EW).”
The drones also appear to have an analog in Iran, which unveiled a similar-looking aircraft during an exhibition on July 2, Janes reported. Publicity material of senior officers visiting the exhibition “showed the UAV with a small camera embedded in an interchangeable warhead mounted on its nose, like the Warmate, albeit with a more prominent antenna for controlling it from the ground than the Polish original. Iranian sources identified the weapon as the Zhubin.”
Whether Iran accessed a copy of the Warmate from one of the units captured by the Russians or replicated the design is unknown. However, given the emerging defense-technical and manufacturing cooperation between the two countries, seen from reports in the Washington Post (WaPo) and the Conflict Armament Research (CAR), the latter possibility cannot be ruled out.