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The Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) is endeavouring to usher in the next generation of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) designed for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations. However, the proposed High-Altitude, Long-Endurance (HALE) RPAS has yet to gain significant traction within the Indian Army and Indian Air Force.

This hesitation can be attributed to concerns arising from the less-than-satisfactory performance of ADE’s earlier work on Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) UAV programs like Tapas. With both the Army and the Air Force poised to place orders for the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, they are urging ADE to utilize the SkyGuardian as a benchmark for developing the indigenous HALE UAV program.

The Joint team from the Indian Army and Indian Air Force has reservations about ADE’s ability to meet the technical parameters essential for the success of the TAPAS-BH-201 MALE UAV Program. This program has made notable progress and is currently undergoing user development trials. However, it falls short in certain technical aspects, causing doubts about ADE’s capability to execute the project without external assistance, be it from foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or the private sector.

Earlier this year, ADE introduced the concept of a High-Altitude, Long-Endurance (HALE) UAV. This Turbo Prop-powered RPAS boasts an all-up weight of 5.5 tons, the capability to operate at altitudes exceeding 35,000 feet, and an endurance exceeding 25 hours. These specifications align closely with those of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, reflecting ADE’s aspiration to develop a competitive indigenous HALE UAV.

ADE is currently facing challenges with the Archer-NG program, an Armed MALE UAV initiative based on the new Single Engine Twin Boom (SETB) design and equipped with a single Turbo Prop engine. Previous attempts by ADE to develop the Archer SR-UAV also struggled to garner interest from the Indian Army and Indian Air Force, leading to a lack of orders.

Recent studies have recommended the procurement of 31 MQ-9B high-altitude UAVs and 155 medium-altitude UAVs, emphasizing the importance of indigenously developed systems. However, the tepid progress of the TAPAS-BH-201 program and delays in the Archer-NG program have cast doubt on ADE’s ability to gain support for the HALE program. It is unlikely that the HALE program will garner enthusiasm until the Archer-NG program demonstrates substantial progress and issues with the TAPAS-BH-201 program are addressed.

ADE’s quest to develop a HALE UAV program that meets the stringent demands of the Indian Army and Indian Air Force faces challenges and skepticism. The performance of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian as a benchmark and the resolution of issues within existing programs will play a pivotal role in determining the trajectory of ADE’s HALE UAV initiative. While there is potential for India to develop its HALE UAV, further refinements and successful execution will be necessary to earn the confidence of key stakeholders in the defence sector.

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