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India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has taken a significant step towards strengthening its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) development capabilities. The organisation has extended the runway at the Chitradurga Aeronautical Test Range (ATR) by a kilometre, bringing the total length to approximately 3.13 km. This expansion aims to facilitate the testing of bigger High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Class UAVs, which DRDO plans to develop for the Indian Armed Forces.

The Chitradurga ATR was specifically established to conduct flights of DRDO’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, particularly those belonging to the Rustom family. The Tactical Airborne Platform for Aerial Surveillance-Beyond Horizon-201 (TAPAS BH-201), also known as Rustom-2 UAV, was successfully flight-tested at the Challakere ATR in November 2016.

The TAPAS BH-201 program has made significant progress in its developmental flight trials and is now ready for user trials. DRDO is likely to get orders for 97 units of this advanced UAV after the successful conclusion of user trials next year.

With the runway extension at Chitradurga ATR, DRDO is now poised to move ahead with the development and testing of bigger HALE Class UAVs. These advanced UAVs are strategically important for the Indian Armed Forces as they offer increased endurance, range, and surveillance capabilities, thereby bolstering India’s defence capabilities. The facility’s enhanced infrastructure will also be utilized for jet-powered Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) testing in the future.

One notable project in the pipeline is the ultra-secretive Stealth Wing Flying Testbed (SWiFT) UAV, which is a scaled-down version of the Ghatak stealth UCAV. Swift is currently undergoing testing as a technological demonstrator for the larger program, awaiting the final clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

In addition to SWiFT, the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) will begin testing Archer-NG, a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Class Armed UAV, at the Chitradurga ATR later this year.

Furthermore, ADE is conducting a feasibility report for the development of bigger HALE Class UAVs to meet the evolving requirements of the Indian Armed Forces. These advanced UAVs will be capable of performing a wide range of tasks, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and target acquisition, providing crucial support to ground forces.

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