The stealth wing flying testbed (SWiFT), which is a smaller or scaled down version of what will eventually be a remotely-piloted strike aircraft (RPSA), was flown from the aeronautical test range at Chitradurga in Karnataka for around 15 minutes.
“Operating in a fully autonomous mode, the aircraft exhibited a perfect flight, including take-off, way point navigation and a smooth touchdown,” a DRDO scientist said.
“This flight marks a major milestone in terms of proving critical technologies towards the development of future unmanned aircraft and is a significant step towards self-reliance in such strategic defence technologies,” he added.
The airframe, undercarriage, entire flight control and avionics systems of the SWiFT have been developed indigenously, though it’s currently powered by a small Russian turbofan engine.
The flight of the SWiFT, which weighs over a tonne, `validated’ the flying control laws, navigation and other technical requirements needed to build the much bigger RPSA.
“Some more trials will be required. Then, the cabinet committee on security will have to approve the development of the RPSA, which will cost a few thousand crores. The plan is to power the RPSA with the indigenous Kaveri aero-engine because it will not require an afterburner (meant for supersonic flight),” a source said.
The Indian armed forces have a large number of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), mainly of Israeli-origin, for real-time reconnaissance and precision-targeting. The IAF also has Israeli Harop “killer” or Kamikaze drones that act as cruise missiles by exploding into enemy targets and radars.
There is also the Rs 3,500 crore upgrade programme for over half of the around 80-90 Israeli Heron UAVs inducted by the armed forces over the years with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground anti-tank missiles as well as advanced reconnaissance capabilities under `Project Cheetah’, as was earlier reported by TOI.
But India currently does not have full-fledged unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) like the American Predators and Reapers, which are controlled by satellites and can fire missiles on enemy targets before returning to re-arm for further missions.
The proposed $3 billion (around Rs 22,000 crore) acquisition of 30 ‘hunter-killer’ armed MQ-9B Predator or Sea Guardian drones from the US is on hold because of the high costs involved and the thrust on indigenization in defence production, as reported by TOI earlier.