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India joins select group to develop UCAV technology

Ravi Sharma

The latest is designed to deliver weapons and attack targets


‘The programme will develop know-how for a swept wing’

UCAV will have route and target details


Bangalore: India has joined a select group of countries that have launched programmes to develop the technology for an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV).

The UCAVs or ‘combat drones,’ which are the latest class in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), differ from the latter in that they are specifically designed to deliver weapons and attack targets, possibly with an even higher degree of autonomy.

The Indian programme, which is an internal effort from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), will involve developing the know-how for a swept wing, stealth design and composite construction technical demonstrator that will demonstrate “the technical feasibility, military utility and operational value for a networked system of high performance” weaponised UCAVs.

Disclosing aspects of the programme the DRDO’s Chief Controller, Research and Development (Aeronautics and Material Sciences), D. Banerjee, said that with “stealth obviously be an important issue” the fuselage would have to carry internally housed weapon bays. Stealth would also require the power plant to be internally mounted and of a non-afterburning turbofan engine type. Specifications for issues such as payload, endurance, retractable landing gear and hard points for auxiliary fuel tanks are yet to be finalised.

Dr. Banerjee added that the DRDO had already created facilities for radar cross simulation (identification of radar reflecting areas) and measurement of radar cross section (describes the extent to which an object reflects an incident electromagnetic wave).

He disclosed that the Bangalore-based DRDO laboratory, the Aeronautical Development Establishment, would be the nodal agency for the UCAV programme.

Current UCAV concepts call for aircraft which can operate virtually autonomously. The UCAV will be programmed with route and target details, and can conduct the mission without help from human controllers.

Current global programmes include the French nEWROn, Israel’s Eitan, British Taranis, China’s Anjian and the US’s X-45.

These programmes which are basically meant to demonstrate that the technology are in various stages of development. The UCAVs can be used for Suppression of Enemy Air Defences, electronic warfare, surveillance, precision strike and associated operations.

Dr. Banerjee also disclosed that the DRDO was looking for a partner from the private sector for its Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

While the Expression of Intent has already been put out, a formal Request for Proposal will be out in September, with a partner being chosen within four months.

The DRDO’s MALE surveillance UAV is expected to have an endurance of 24 hours, can operate at 35,000 ft., and will have autonomous take-off and landing, wheeled undercarriage and a single (Rotax) piston engine.

The first flight of the MALE UAV is expected in three years. It could supplement/replace the Israeli ‘Heron,’ around 50 of which were sold to the Indian defence forces. Estimates are that the Indian defence forces are keen on acquiring around 80 to 100 MALE UAVs by 2010-11.

Commenting on the need for a partner, Dr. Banerjee said a partner would, besides bringing in funds, mean that the production agency is involved with the UAV right from the development stage, and also configure the vehicle to production practices.

“We have had a nightmare transferring design to prototype. The time it takes is not configured in our time frames.

A production agency is experienced with production practices.”

The MALE UAV could, according to Dr. Banerjee, be a forerunner to the DRDO going in for a High Altitude Long Endurance UAV.

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