- India’s first indigenous advanced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for strategic reconnaissance and surveillance will make its public debut next week, while another home-grown Weaponised drone is also slated to undertake its first flight test by June-July.
- The Tapas-BH (tactical aerial platform for advanced surveillance-beyond horizon) drone, developed by DRDO with over 180 flights clocked till now.
- “Tapas-BH will showcase its capabilities, which includes operating at altitudes up to 28,000-feet with an endurance of over 18 hours.
- The medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) is DRDO’s solution for ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) requirements of the Army, IAF and Navy,” a defence ministry official said on Thursday.
- The armed drone called Archer-NG (next generation), which can carry 300kg of weapons including smart anti-airfield weapons (SAAWs) and anti-tank guided missiles, in turn, will be flight tested for the first time by June-July, sources said.
- The Tapas-BH drone, earlier called Rustom-2, has a maximum speed of 225 kmph with a 20. 6-metre wing span and “a command range” of 1,000-km with satellite-based communication.
- The UAV, also capable of night-flying, is now getting ready for formal user-trial evaluation by the armed forces.
- It can thereafter go for production in large numbers by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), Bharat Electronics (BEL) and others.
- The operational utility of drones and AI-enabled drone swarms has been driven home by recent conflicts ranging from Armenia-Azerbaijan to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine one.
- India, however, has lagged far behind others in developing advanced UAVs and has resorted to importing Heron and Searcher-II drones in large numbers from Israel over the years.
- The Navy also has two unarmed MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones on lease from US firm General Atomics. Advanced indigenous drones will be much cheaper.
- The Tapas-BH, which presently flies with a foreign engine, costs around 40-45 crore with all its mission sensors.
- The indigenous UAV engine is also now ready and in an advanced stage of evaluation.
- Importantly, an indigenous advanced ground control station can operate six to seven home-grown UAVs.
- The Archer-NG, with several more hard-points for weapons carriage, also draws a lot in design from the Tapas BH.
- China, incidentally, has supplied armed Cai Hong-4 and Wing Loong-II drones to Pakistan.
- India, too, has a long-standing plan to acquire armed MQ-9B Predator drones from the US.
- But the proposed deal’s high cost at $3 billion (24,000 crore) for 30 drones has led to a rethink on reducing the total number to 18 now.
SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB