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Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a state-run aerospace company, has partnered with Bengaluru-based startup NewSpace Research and Technologies to develop a next-generation weapon system – the Air-Launched Flexible Asset (Swarm), or ALFA-S.

These compact drones, measuring between 1 and 2 meters long, boast folding wings for efficient storage within canisters mounted on Indian Air Force aircraft. The pilot releases the drones at a safe distance from enemy defenses. Once airborne, the drones deploy their wings and utilize battery power to reach speeds exceeding 100 kilometers per hour.

The project incorporates a unique glider pod concept. This pod can house four ALFA-S drones, allowing fighter jets like the Su-30MKI to carry five such pods. The gliders themselves offer an impressive 50-70 kilometres of gliding range before releasing the ALFA-S drones, which can then travel an additional 150 kilometres.

Scaled models of the ALFA-S have already undergone testing to ensure successful launch from fighter jets without airframe stress from high-speed deployment. Additionally, electric propulsion systems have been evaluated for the drones.

The envisioned applications of ALFA-S are diverse. These drones can function as both hunters and defenders. They can be deployed in packs to overwhelm enemy targets or used defensively to protect friendly assets. The system’s adaptability allows for launching both offensive and defensive drones from the same platform.

Development trials involving actual fighter jet launches are expected to commence later in 2024. The success of these trials could pave the way for integration with attack helicopters and MALE UAVs (Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

ALFA-S represents a significant advancement in India’s drone technology, offering the potential to revolutionize modern warfare with its swarming capabilities and adaptable functionalities.

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