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SOURCE: MAHESH SHETTI / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG

In 2017, the Indian Air Force (IAF) failed to procure 100 jet-propelled stealthy Avenger unmanned aircraft from the American General Atomics due to US Administration that in turn forced IAF to look into State-owned defense companies like DRDO and HAL for the development of next-generation, multi-mission, jet-powered unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can provide IAF an expanded quick-response and enhanced combat capabilities.

IAF has been looking for an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) with lower radar cross-section (RCS) for long endurance and high operational speeds that can be deployed in intelligence, border and wide-area surveillance, armed reconnaissance (ISR), and precision-strike missions against threats in both conventional and asymmetric warfare for a while now but now quietly commissioned the development of multiple UAS that has stealth profile to further enhance it fighting capabilities.

India already is working on the Flying Stealth Ghatak program and recently a 1-ton Stealth Wing Flying Testbed (SWiFT) UAS that will act as a Technological demonstrator was seen carrying out rudimentary low and high-speed taxi trials to be followed up with flight trials so has to validate most of the design features including a low exhaust and fluid tvc nozzle that has been developed for the program. Ghatak will be tipping the scales at 13 tons, about as heavy as an LCA-Tejas Mk1 (13.5 tons), and will be powered by a non-afterburner variant of the Kaveri engine that is yet to complete its developmental cycle but most of the technical issues that had cropped up in the previous trials have been fixed, but it won’t be ready before 2024-25.

The second stealth UAS program seems to be the development of CATS Warrior Loyal wingman where a 1.3-ton platform will be able to carry 250kg Precision guided ammunition or 2x Close Combat Missile (CCM) has been planned. Both SWIFT and CATS Warrior can fill in the role of cheap and low-cost unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can be used to improve the strike capabilities of the IAF Strike package over hostile air space and also in a way reduce human fatalities in such high-risk missions.

DRDO has started work on a sub 500kg turbojet-powered UAS that will play a crucial role in the development of an 8-ton High-altitude long-endurance (HALE) class unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that the organization plans to develop a HALE Class platform. what has been talked about is that DRDO is keen to develop a platform that can be used to gather electronic intelligence or covertly conduct airborne surveillance over hostile or contested airspace and fly over high altitudes. at this point, it’s not clear if it will be able to carry weapons.

HAL also is believed to be working on its HALE Class UAS with a stealth profile that can cruise at an altitude of 15 km and can carry 2tons of weapons in its internal bay along with six-wing board weapons. Both PSUs are keen on developing UAS in the sub-8-ton category that has long endurance of 15-18 hours and can be used to aid the strike package of Ghatak and AMCA in near future.

Ghatak project along with 2 HALE Class UAS clearly and enormously are the most important projects of our time as airpower around the world moves to unmanned zone and these projects once they enter into service could bring a significant regional and even strategic advantage to the Indian Air Force and will also help narrow and catch up Chinese in the region who have been developing combat drones of this type for a while now.

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