SOURCE: TUSHKAR SHIRODKAR / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG.
The United States Air force has started work on the development of a very long-range, large, heavy-payload stealth intercontinental strategic bomber called B-21 Raiders, that will be supplementing a small fleet of a B2 stealth bomber and eventually will be replacing the non-stealthy B1 Lancer bombers from the USAF fleet. People’s Liberation Army Air Force of China on the other hand has leaked enough images of all the things to come that includes a new generation Xian H-20 subsonic stealth bomber that will be replacing the H-6K bomber based on Soviet-era Tu-16 design and Russians too are not left behind and have approved the development of PAK DA stealth bomber project that eventually makes some wonder why the Indian Air Force (IAF) has not joined the bandwagon yet.
IAF has a brief history of operating dedicated bomber fleet like English Electric Canberra, a tactical bomber and reconnaissance aircraft in the past but posts its retirement, it relied on Mig-27 and Jaguar fleet for its ground strike and bombing missions but rarely used them in small conflicts or operations that IAF was involved in last 40 plus years effectively. Due to the possession of nuclear warheads and accelerating procurement and operational cost of the bomber aircraft, India’s plan to lease 4 Russian TU-22ME for maritime operations never materialized but that shows that if not air force at least Navy at some point of time did have plans to operate dedicated bomber fleet for maritime operations. but the question remains can India built its stealth bomber in near future and what technology do we have to achieve this goal.
India’s Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (DRDO) has started work on developing a 1-ton Stealth Wing Flying Testbed (SWiFT) that will be the precursor to India’s stealthy Ghatak UCAV program and also that will be used to demonstrate and prove the stealth technology and high-speed landing technology in autonomous mode before work starts on the development of 10 ton stealthy Ghatak UCAV that will be powered by a Dry Kaveri engine generating 46kN of Dry Thrust.
SWiFT will be powered by GTRE developed 4.25kN Thrust Turbofan engine called Manik Engine that was designed to power India’s Nirbhay Cruise missile but now also will be used as a Technology demonstrator to test many of the basic technologies that are being developed for the bigger Ghatak UCAV program. SWiFT itself can turn into a full-fledged DRDO’s wingman Bomber program if IAF desires so, but the focus now seems to be on the HAL’s proposed CATS Warrior wingman program.
India’s stealthy Ghatak UCAV will be a cornerstone in India’s combat aviation industry and a much bigger milestone for India if DRDO can achieve this in the next 15-20 years. Ghatak UCAV program should be given prominence and priority as much as India’s AMCA program by the Government of India and it is important also to provide it with enough funds so that when it enters production its is class apart and best among the contemporaries program. Ghatak UCAV can lay the foundation stone for the development of long-range Maritime or nuclear stealth bombers that for an aspirational superpower like India is a must-have program.
As per the present Ghatak UCAV program status, one of the critical components works of the program like the engine has started. GTRE has started the fabrication of 4 prototypes of the Dry Kaveri engine variant that has been developed to power Ghatak UCAV. GTRE is expected to complete flight trials and certify the engine for production by 2024-25. Ghatak UCAV flight trials might start post-2025 and it is expected it will be ready to enter production in 2030 onwards.
Successful completion of unmanned stealth bomber projects like SWiFT, Ghataak can lay the foundation for the development of bigger manned stealth bombers. India like the United States, China, and Russia don’t have the luxury nor the experience of precursor stealth or conventional bomber programs to rely on to build new stealth bomber but with this successful execution of SWiFT, Ghataak programs will give designers, engineers, and Industrial base to rely on developing a 100,000 kg Max takeoff weight stealth bombers post 2030.
Technological challenges to develop such a stealth bomber won’t be easy but these (SWiFT, Ghataak) projects along with multiple projects like Tejas Mk2, TEDBF, and AMCA will create the necessary base for the development of such an aircraft. In a country that can afford to fund and develop aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines, the development of effective nuclear capabilities from the air-based platform and not rely on fighter jets is not only a priority but also a necessity to be taken seriously as a nuclear-armed country, one that has two hostile nuclear neighbors and faces prospects of a two-front war. like nuclear submarines, it is unlikely India will be able to get hands-on a stealth bomber anytime in near future, and India must take up this program 10-15 years down the line.
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