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IMAGE CREDIT @Kuntal__biswas

India’s air defense systems require a constant state of readiness to tackle evolving threats. One crucial element in this equation is the use of jet-powered target drones, which simulate real-world missile attacks during training exercises. However, India’s current arsenal faces limitations, prompting efforts to develop and acquire more advanced solutions.

Traditionally, India relied heavily on QinetiQ, a British defense company, to supply high-speed target drones. While these drones served their purpose, they weren’t without drawbacks.

Domestically developed target drones like the Banshee Jet 40, Lakshya-2, and Abhyas, while a positive step towards self-reliance, have limitations. These drones struggle to replicate the high speed and maneuverability of modern missiles, particularly late Cold War sea-skimming anti-ship missiles (AShMs) and newer, even faster threats.

The situation becomes more critical when considering modern Very Low Observable (VLO) technologies, employed in advanced aircraft and cruise missiles. These present a significant challenge as India currently lacks target drones with a Reduced Radar Cross Section (RCS) design to realistically simulate such threats.

The Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) and DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) are actively addressing these shortcomings. The Supersonic Weapons Imitating Flying Target (SWIFT) program exemplifies this effort. The program aims to acquire faster, more maneuverable, and potentially stealthier target drones.

For the most realistic simulation of modern VLO threats, India needs highly maneuverable target drones with a reduced radar signature. The fastest path to achieve this could be through the purchase or licensed production of QinetiQ’s Banshee NG. With a reported speed of 900 km/h and the ability to handle 9Gs, it closely mimics the capabilities of current VLO subsonic AShMs.

India’s journey towards self-reliance in jet-powered target drones is underway. While the current generation has limitations, initiatives like the SWIFT program and potential acquisition of the Banshee NG demonstrate a commitment to bridge the gap. This focus on advanced target drones will ensure India’s air defense forces remain prepared to face the evolving threats of the future.

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