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India’s ambitious Remotely Piloted Strike Aircraft (RPSA) program, also known as the UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) Stealth Program, has hit a potential roadblock. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) few years back shifted the program from the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) to the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), raising concerns about the future of this critical technology.

The move appears to be driven by a desire to free up ADA’s resources for manned fighter jet programs like Tejas MkII, TEDBF, and AMCA. Additionally, DRDO might be seeking to leverage ADE’s expertise in subsonic and supersonic UAVs, particularly its ongoing work on the Stealth Wing Flying Testbed (SWiFT) demonstrator.

However, for the first time Biju Uthup, the founding Project Director of the UCAV program, has expressed concerns about its fate under ADE, citing the agency’s recent struggles. The Tapas MALE UAV program, spearheaded by ADE, was defunded by the Ministry of Defence after failing to meet technical requirements. This history of setbacks raises questions about ADE’s ability to deliver on the complex and demanding RPSA program.

While ADE’s track record in UAV development is mixed, the SWiFT project offers a glimmer of hope. This demonstrator aims to validate crucial technologies for the RPSA program, including stealth capabilities and autonomous flight. If successful, it could pave the way for a more robust UCAV program under ADE’s leadership.

The future of India’s UCAV program remains uncertain. While the shift to ADE presents both challenges and opportunities, it is crucial to address the concerns raised by experts like Uthup. Robust communication, clear goals, and continuous evaluation will be key to ensuring that this critical program delivers on its promise of bolstering India’s airpower capabilities.

The RPSA program’s fate holds wider implications for India’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) ambitions. A successful program will propel India into the elite club of nations possessing advanced stealthy drones, while failure could further dent the country’s UAV development efforts.

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