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Earlier this year, the Indian Navy Chief confirmed plans for the development of a second indigenous aircraft carrier based on the 45,000-ton IAC-I design. However, significant modifications will be made to this carrier to enable it to operate Unmanned Combat Vehicles (UCAVs) for deck-based operations starting in 2030.

The Indian Navy has been closely monitoring the proposed UCAV platform by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The UCAV is expected to be powered by a Dry Kaveri engine, generating 46kn of thrust, which can be adapted for deck-based operations. The UCAV will serve as a crucial component of the strike element, capable of stealthily approaching land-based targets or engaging a flotilla of warships in the open sea.

As part of the development process, a scaled-down version of the UCAV called SWiFT UAV, weighing 1 ton, has been created as a technology demonstrator. It is a precursor to the full-scale Ghatak UCAV, which is currently undergoing testing. The Indian Navy and DRDO are already engaged in discussions regarding the configuration of a deck-based UCAV platform.

While the UCAV program has received initial funding to develop and test various technologies, it is awaiting full-scale clearance and funding. The certification of the Dry Kaveri engine is anticipated to be granted by 2024-25, following which further testing and trials are planned. However, a functional scaled prototype of the UCAV is expected to join the testing phase only by late 2028-29, as per sources familiar with the development, informed idrw.

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