Indigenous Stealth Drone

The development of Remotely Piloted Strike Aircraft (RPSA) and its successful induction into the Indian Armed Forces will provide India with considerable air supremacy since the RPSA, with its small size, stealth capabilities and fully automated capabilities will prove to be a game-changer in performing offensive strike and suicide mission as required

July 5, 2022 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By PIB, IAI
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

DEFENCE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT ORGANISATION (DRDO) SUCCESSFULLY CONDUCTED THE MAIDEN FLIGHT OF INDIGENOUSLY DEVELOPED AUTONOMOUS FLYING WING TECHNOLOGY DEMONSTRATOR FROM THE AERONAUTICAL TEST RANGE, CHITRADURGA, IN KARNATAKA ON JULY 1, 2022.

On July 1, 2022, India took the small but significant step with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) carrying out a successful maiden flight of the Autonomous Flying Wing Technology Demonstrator – the Stealth Wing Flying Test Bed (SWIFT), also being called 'Ghatak', which is a smaller scaled down version of what will eventually be a Remotely Piloted Strike Aircraft (RPSA). The Ghatak was flown from the aeronautical test range at Chitradurga in Karnataka for around 15 minutes.

A press statement issued by the DRDO said, "Operating in a fully autonomous mode, the aircraft exhibited a perfect flight, including take-off, waypoint navigation, and a smooth touchdown. This flight marks a major milestone in terms of proving critical technologies towards the development of future unmanned aircraft and is a significant step towards self-reliance in such strategic defence technologies." The statement added that the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is designed and developed by Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), Bengaluru, a premier research laboratory. It is powered by a small turbofan engine. The airframe, undercarriage, and entire flight control and avionics systems used for the aircraft were developed indigenously.

This flight marks a major milestone in terms of proving critical technologies towards the development of future unmanned aircraft and is a significant step towards self-reliance in such strategic defence technologies

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted: "Congratulations to @DRDO_India on successful maiden flight of the Autonomous Flying Wing Technology Demonstrator from Chitradurga ATR. It is a major achievement towards autonomous aircraft which will pave the way for Atmanirbhar Bharat in terms of critical military systems."

Dr G. Satheesh Reddy, Secretary, Department of Defence R&D and Chairman of DRDO appreciated the efforts of the teams associated with the design, development, and testing of the system. The wingspan of Ghatak reportedly is five metres long and its length is four metres long. The overall weight of the unmanned combat vehicle (UCV) is expected to be 1,050 kg. With the command range of 200 km it can achieve an altitude of 6,000 metres, providing a flight endurance of one hour.

Though the airframe, undercarriage, entire fire control and avionics systems of the Ghatak have been developed indigenously, it is currently powered by a small 'Russian' turbofan engine. The Ghatak's flight validated the flying control laws, navigation and other technical requirements needed to build the much bigger RPSA.

Though the airframe, undercarriage, entire fire control and avionics systems of the Ghatak have been developed indigenously, it is currently powered by a small 'Russian' turbofan engine

The Indian Armed Forces have a large number of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), mainly of Israel-origin, for real-time reconnaissance and precision targeting. The IAF also has Israeli Harop 'killer' or Kamikaze drones that destroy enemy targets and radars by exploding on them like a missile strike. Under Project 'Cheetah' costing 3,500 crore, half of the 80-90 Israeli Heron UAVs inducted by the Armed Forces over the years with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles and advanced reconnaisance capabilities are being ugraded.

Indian Air Force has Israeli Harop 'killer' or Kamikaze drones

But the RPSA will not happen overnight. The DRDO will need to undertake many more trials. These will be followed by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approving the development of the RPSA and allotting necessary funds. Thereafter, Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister would accord the acceptance of necessity (AoN), followed by development, trials and induction into the Armed Forces requiring huge numbers and costs. All this could take a number of years.

Hopefully, we will be able to shorten the time-frame beyond the Ghatak maiden flight to the development and eventual induction of the RPSA into the Indian Armed Forces, filling the void of an indigenous UCAV

As per plans, the RPSA will be fully indigenous, powered by the indigenous Kaveri aero-engine which does not require an afterburner, reinforcing the stealth capability. Hopefully, we will be able to shorten the time-frame beyond the Ghatak maiden flight to the development and eventual induction of the RPSA into the Indian Armed Forces, filling the void of an indigenous UCAV.

UCAV's came into prominence during the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict over Ngorno-Karabakh; with Azerbaijan dominating the battle using Turkish UCAVs. Armed drones have been used by terrorist organisations also. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is witnessing extensive use of a variety of drones. International aerial warfare trends all appear to incorporate increasingly complex UAV and UCAV systems. We must also take note of the high-end UAVs and stealth UCAVs in China's People's Liberation Army (PLA), some of which are of fleet size.