IAF to develop its own indigenous Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV)

The Indian Air force (IAF) is looking to create a separate cadre for operating its Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), said Lt. Gen. A.K. Suri, Director General of Army Aviation on Tuesday, September 13 while a senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer said that a proposal to develop an indigenous Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) had been taken up.

However, as the civil administration and states are fast adopting the indigenous civil drone industry, military drones are still being imported.

“This cadre will be of operators in terms of piloting and will reduce the load on helicopter pilots,” Lt. Gen. Suri said speaking at a seminar on UAVs organised by the Centre for Air Power Studies. Stating that the Indian Army has been using UAVs for the last two decades, he said they have primarily used them in the northern and western borders. A significant part of the surveillance is carried out by them.

IAF to develop its own indigenous Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV)

The proposal is currently with the Army headquarters and once cleared, will be sent to the Defence Ministry for approval, officials said on its status. A similar proposal for a separate UAV cadre by the IAF has been long pending with the Defence Ministry for approval.

In August 2021, Army Aviation got control of the UAVs of the Army which were earlier under Artillery. The Army operates over 30 Heron UAVs procured from Israel.

“The IAF has a road map for induction of more capable medium-altitude long-endurance UAVs as well as high-altitude long-endurance UAVs. IAF is joining an indigenous effort to develop a UCAV and Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) has been sanctioned to develop the niche technologies.”

Air Marshal Radhakrishnan Radhish, Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO), Western Air Command

The Bengaluru-based ADE is under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

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Stating that the “unmanned market” is expected to see significant growth in India, Air Marshal Radhish added that by 2026 it is anticipated to be the world’s third-largest market.

According to a report by EY India and FICCI, the potential of the Indian drone and its components manufacturing industry is USD 23 billion by 2030. The information holds the key to unlocking this potential in the synergy between various ministries that can deliver on a multi-fold agenda.

In the context of India, specifically, HALE drones are already in the pipeline.

High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) refers to a family of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that can fly up to 10 days at 65,000 ft and even 20 days at 20,000-25,000 ft.

Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) flies between 10,000 ft and 30,000 ft and lasts for about a day or two in flight. Although only recently becoming ubiquitous in militaries worldwide, these drones perform various tasks, these can be used for combat, surveillance and reconnaissance support.

According to experts, “In the context of India, specifically, HALE drones are already in the pipeline. The Combat Air Teaming Systems (CATS) envisions a pseudo satellite named CATS Infinity. CATS is a larger, more ambitious project involving a team of heterogeneous drones that can unthinkably extend the aerial dominance of a pilot when working in tandem.”

Tactical Advanced Platform for Aerial Surveillance Beyond Horizon-201 (TAPAS BH-201) is the first made-in-India MALE drone that will be commissioned into the three services.

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Besides Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) which has been working on a MALE drone, Rustom, for a while, state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is working on the MALE class too. Both DRDO and HAL are collaborating on CATS.

Tactical Advanced Platform for Aerial Surveillance Beyond Horizon-201 (TAPAS BH-201) is the first made-in-India MALE drone that will be commissioned into the three services. HAL is already working on six airframes for evaluation of the system.

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