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India is poised to take a significant leap in its military capabilities with the ambitious development of its own Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs), also known as stealth combat drones. These drones, envisioned to fire missiles and precision-guided weapons, will offer a transformative edge in modern warfare.

While details remain under wraps, sources close to suggest a funding proposal for the RPAS (Remote Piloted Aerial Vehicle) program, which encompasses UCAVs, could be presented later this year or early next year. Estimates suggest a potential budget of ?5,000 crore (approximately $600 million) to propel this program forward. Currently, the project is undergoing evaluation by a dedicated committee established by the Ministry of Finance.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has already achieved success with the SWiFT, a scaled-down, one-ton version of the Ghatak UCAV. Following a few additional tests, the green light will be given for the full-fledged UCAV program. However, reaching the stage of deploying fully operational UCAVs might take until the late 2030s. This timeline is partly due to the Dry Kaveri engine, a crucial component for these drones, which is still 3-4 years away from full-scale production.

The ability to launch these UCAVs for offensive missions with missiles and precision weapons, followed by their return to base for rearmament, offers a game-changing tactical advantage. These drones can potentially perform high-risk operations with minimal human exposure to danger.

India’s UCAV program signifies a strategic step towards self-reliance in unmanned aerial combat systems. This initiative will not only bolster India’s airpower but also position it as a significant player in the development of cutting-edge military technology.

Despite the promising prospects, challenges remain. Securing adequate funding, streamlining development timelines, and ensuring a robust domestic supply chain for critical components like the Dry Kaveri engine will be crucial for the program’s success.

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