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SOURCE: RAJESH AHUJA / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG

India along with many countries are counting on mixed teams of manned and unmanned combat aircraft to conduct aerial dogfighting autonomously and ground strike in the next few years as Loyal wingman programs are on the rise globally that can help identify and overwhelm enemy air defenses, or draw fires away from crewed aircraft.

India is working on uncrewed low-cost, attritable aircraft Combat Air Teaming System (CATS) Warrior powered by a modified PTE-7 engine of the HAL is looking at 2024-25 for the development and demonstration of the first loyal wingman concept coming out of India. Each CATS Warrior uncrewed CATS Warrior will be paired with a crewed partner /mothership to serve as powerful force multipliers that will both amplify and optimize the advanced capabilities of crewed aircraft.

CATS Warrior will be equipped with a mission-specific payload such as sensors, weapons, or electronic warfare capabilities that will enable some CATS Warrior to be equipped with air to ground weapons while others are to be equipped with Short-range ASRAAMS for air to air weapons. CATS Warrior can also be equipped with a payload to act as a relay communication transmitter to the crewed partner /mothership that will fly at a distance.

HAL plans to use a Twin-seater Tejas MAx (Mothership) as a crewed partner /mothership that will have a dedicated Drone Station Officer (DSO) that will be equipped with a Remote Drone operator who will be sending communications to the CATS Warrior and also has capabilities to take over some of the drones. CATS Warrior are to be equipped with some levels of artificial intelligence that will also enable them to evaluate target assessments based on the new emerging threats and also ensure that Tejas MAx (Mothership) is protected even when the escort team is overwhelmed by rival air defense or by manned jets.

CATS Warrior will greatly change future air battles but challenges remain how levels of artificial intelligence can be developed and how human-machine learning capabilities are developed. Challenges also remain in ensuring secure communications are maintained over larger areas of the battlespace.

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