In a first but crucial step towards the final construction of a full-fledged stealth combat drone capable of firing missiles and dropping bombs, India on Friday conducted the maiden flight of an unmanned “autonomous demonstrator for flying wings only”.
The Stealth Wing Flying Testbed (SWiFT), a smaller or downsized version of what will eventually be a Remotely Piloted Strike Aircraft (RPSA), was flown from the aeronautical test range Chitradurga in Karnataka for about 15 minutes.
“In fully autonomous mode, the aircraft demonstrated a perfect flight, including takeoff, waypoint navigation and a smooth touchdown,” a DRDO scientist said.
“This flight marks an important milestone in terms of demonstrating critical technologies for the development of future unmanned aerial vehicles and is a significant step towards self-sufficiency in such strategic defense technologies,” he added.
The SWiFT’s airframe, landing gear, all flight controls and avionics systems were developed domestically, although it is currently powered by a small Russian turbofan engine.
The flight of the SWiFT, which weighs over a ton, “validated” the flight control laws, navigation and other technical requirements needed to build the much larger RPSA.
“Some more attempts will be necessary. Then the Cabinet Security Committee has to approve the development of the RPSA, which will cost a few thousand crores. The plan is to power the RPSA with the native Kaveri engine as it doesn’t need an afterburner (intended 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. That 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 program for over half of the 80-90 or so Israeli Heron UAVs introduced by the armed forces over the years with laser-guided bombs and air-to-surface anti-tank missiles and advanced reconnaissance capabilities under `Project Cheetah ‘.
But India currently does not have full-fledged unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) like America’s Predators and Reapers, which are piloted by satellites and can fire missiles at enemy targets before returning to rearm for more missions.
The planned acquisition of 30 MQ-9B Predators armed with “fighter killers” or sea guard Drones from the US are on hold due to the high cost and push for indigenization in defense production.