HAL a few years back had proposed the development of an unmanned fighter aircraft based on the LCA-Tejas airframe that will come minus the cockpit section along with avionics and ejection seat and other life-saving instruments that are required for the manned jet. The proposed UCAV was supposed to have Fully Autonomous Take-Off and Landing, Low RCS, High Situational Awareness with AESA Radar, and an AI-backed computer that will aid manned fighter jets like Su-30 and LCA-Tejas fleet.

Years down the line, HAL announced it is working on CATS Warrior a low-cost, low RCS, a subsonic airframe that will have Internal bays but with a mear take-off weight of 1.3 tons and 250kg payload-carrying capabilities which should have classified it as a jet-powered MALE-UAV, while Loyal wingman program under development world over have supersonic flight capabilities and nearly 1.5-ton in payload capabilities.

CATS Warrior is limited by speed and range and will have a hard time keeping up with modern fighter jets if it has to exist from the combat zone in the hurry. Limited by its size it will also be able to carry full-sizeAESA Radar or any sensor suite that will aid manned jets flying in the vicinity in critical missions.

The original idea of developing an unmanned LCA-Tejas was good. LCA-Tejas being small in size, already has low RCS and without its cockpit section it could have come with an, even more, lower frontal radar cross-section, and high degrees of usage of composite could have allowed it very hard to detect at long ranges, and its ability to fly at Mach speeds and endurance could have been acceptable and could have increased its chances of survival in a contested environment.

While India is working on Stealthy Unmanned Strike aircraft like Ghataak and CATS Warrior they won’t be ready to enter service for another decade or more and if the LCA-based unmanned program had taken off in time nearly 5-6 years back it could have been ready now and could have been great learning assets for other programs to be followed.

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