Advancing Stealth Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) Technology

In a significant stride toward developing stealth unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), India conducted a successful flight trial of an “autonomous flying wing technology demonstrator” at the aeronautical test range in Chitradurga, Karnataka. This achievement represents a remarkable maturity in technology readiness levels, positioning India among the elite nations mastering flying-wing technology.

DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) Takes the Lead

The high-speed flying-wing UAV, weighing over a tonne, was designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE). This successful flight in its final tailless configuration paves the way for a larger project to develop a remotely-piloted strike aircraft (RPSA) in the coming years.

Critical Technologies Proven for RPSA Project

With proven critical technologies in the improved final configuration, the RPSA project, once sanctioned by the government, will involve upscaling the UAV’s size and dimensions, incorporating a new aero-engine. The ADE has been focused on developing “stealthy” drones and aircraft with reduced radar cross-section for evading hostile air defense systems.

Focus on Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD)

Emphasizing the priority on next-generation air dominance, similar to the approach taken by the US and other leading nations, India’s efforts are geared towards developing advanced technologies in the realm of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Advancements in Aerodynamics and Control Systems

Six flight trials of the flying-wing UAV have been conducted since its maiden flight in July 2022, leading to advancements in aerodynamics and control systems. The development team optimized avionic systems, integration, and flight operations, culminating in the successful seventh flight in the final configuration.

Cutting-Edge Materials and Autonomous Landing Capability

The aircraft prototype features a complex arrowhead wing platform manufactured with lightweight carbon prepreg composite material developed indigenously. Notably, the UAV demonstrated an autonomous landing capability without the need for ground radars or a pilot. This unique capability allows take-off and landing from any runway with surveyed coordinates.

Integration of Satellite-Based Augmentation

The UAV’s autonomous landing was achieved through onboard sensor data fusion using indigenous satellite-based augmentation, utilizing GPS-aided GEO augmented navigation (GAGAN) receivers.

Future Prospects

As India progresses in UCAV technology, the country aims to ink a mega $3 billion contract for 31 armed MQ-9B Reaper or Predator-B drones with the US. These drones, controlled by satellites, are capable of firing missiles on enemy targets and returning for further missions, enhancing India’s capabilities in the realm of unmanned aerial systems.



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