Artist Impression of Unmanned Tejas

Dr. Girish Shantaram Deodhare who is Director of Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) has confirmed to Indian media that after Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is granted to Tejas Mark-1 by this July, ADA has been cleared by Government of India (GOI) to commence work on the development of Unmanned Tejas.

Unmanned Tejas according to ADA Chief, will be developed to further explore the futuristic role for the LCA-Tejas and according to experts in the field also will help fast-track development of India’s Indigenous Stealth Ghatak Autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) program.

According to ADA, Time frame to convert fighter into unmanned Drone will be short but its future Utility is yet to be explained. Unmanned Tejas just won’t be a simple exercise of converting a sophisticated manned aircraft into an unmanned drone with an addition of remote pilot system onboard, but aircraft will also be a testbed for Command and sensor systems which will find its way into Ghatak UCAV program.

Unmanned Tejas in next phase of development will feature a high degree of Autonomous functions in its capability which will reduce intervention of the remote pilot. Autonomous functions will start from the basic function of Auto Takeoff and landing function and will expand further as software and hardware mature into mission-specific roles.

While it seems Unmanned Tejas is all about being just a testbed for the Ghatak UCAV program but Indian Scientist and engineers seem to be very keen on exploring its utility further and are also keen on developing an Autonomous platform which can work in tandem with Ghatak UCAV on High-Risk Missions over Hostile Airspace.

QF-16 target drones.

Converting Manned fighters into Unmanned drones are nothing new, United States Air Force (USAF) has been converting jet fighters as target drones for decades, beginning in the 1960s when the Air Force converted 24 Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jets into target drones and is following up with orders for 210 QF-16 target drones. USAF is largely using this converted manned fighter aircraft as target drones to test the efficiency of their Air Defence System and to also train their Air Defence station crew in live exercises.

Unmanned J-6

China, on the other hand, has used and converted its surplus PLAAF fighters into rudimentary drones Based primarily on the J-6 (MiG-19 clone) J-7 (MiG-21 clone) platforms to further their UAV and UCAV programs in the past. But Western Experts do also believe that China might use this Unmanned fighter drones to overwhelm Superior Western Air Defence system in an air combat environment without risking its Manned Fighter aircraft.

Usage of Swarm Drones as Next Generation Military Weapon is an ongoing concept of using flying robots and artificially intelligent machines to attack your enemies. while the idea is to create a small swarm of drones to overwhelm your enemy, a similar concept can practically be also used on a larger platform which can offer a cheap effective platform, which can be used to attack sophisticated Air-Defence systems before the intervention of the Manned aircraft.

What role will Unmanned Tejas take in future is yet to be seen but this project alone will not only be stepping stone in the development of Ghatak UCAV program but also will further advance India’s quest to develop the further Autonomous systems for all future platforms.

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