Drones have proven their utility in the modern warfare, most recently by shaping battelfield outcomes in the Armenia–Azerbaijan border crisis and the Russia-Ukraine war.
In the former, sophisticated Turkish and Israeli-origin drones deployed by the Azeris wreaked havoc on Armenian T-72 tanks and S-300 air defenses.
In the latter, relatively rudimentary and inexpensive Iranian drones, built with many western sub-systems, are being used by the Russians to target Ukrainian formations which, ironically, are also equipped with western weapons systems.
While Turkey, Israel, and even Iran have been able to develop and deploy long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles and loitering munitions, most drone programmes run by India's Defence Research and Development Organisarion (DRDO) did not reach maturation in the last decade.
In 2020, India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) slammed DRDO’s UAV programme for poor planning, little coordination with the end-user and flouting standard operating procedures.
However, much of this is beginning to change.
Three critical programmes anchored by the DRDO — Tapas BH Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV, Archer-NG and SRUAV — have made significant progress in recent months, sources at Aero India told Swarajya.
The first public flight of Tapas-BH is likely to take place at Aero India 2023 in Bengaluru this week.
The platform, designed as a solution for the to the tri-services Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Tracking and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) requirements, is capable of operating at altitudes up to 28,000 feet, with an endurance of 18 plus hours.
Tapas has already completed more than 170 flights with different payload combinations and mission profiles, the DRDO says.
User trials of the UAV are set to begin in the second quarter of 2023.
Archer-NG, an armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed and developed in India, will make its first flight in July this year.
A MALE drone, Archer-NG is capable of operating up to an altitude of 30,000 feet. The platform is reported of have an endurance of up to 18 hours, which means it can remain in air for that duration.
Apart from stricking enemy targets, the drone can be used for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions, artillery fire corrections and battlefield post-strike assessment, a poster displayed at Aero India 2023 in Bengaluru indicates.
An upgraded version of the Rustoum-1 drone designed and developed by the DRDO, the drone is capable of carrying 300 kilograms of weaponry.
The weapons that it can carry include indigenously developed smart anti-airfield weapons (SAAWs) and anti-tank guided missiles.
Archer-NG has a line-of-sight range of 250 kilometers and a beyond line-of-sight range of around 1000 kilometers.
The drone is made up of composite airframe structure and is equipped with piston engine propulsion. It also has a datalink, which helps to beam images and videos back to the ground station for analysis.
Archer-NG has been developed under the Development cum Production Partner (DcPP) route, which ensures the involvement of industry from the beginning of development cycle and leads to the reduction in the time-frame of the development-to-induction cycle.
The DRDO has recently "promulgated new Transfer of Technology (ToT) policy and procedure with 'nil' ToT fee for its industry partners Development cum Production Partners (DcPP)/ Production Agency (PA) and ‘Nil’ royalty for supply to Indian Armed Forces".
Apart from state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Bharat Electronics, private sector players like Larsen & Toubro, Triveni Industries, Jayem Automotives and Nucon Aerospace are also involed in the development of the weaponised drone.
SRUAV, also called Short Range UAV, is a weaponised drone which is capable of operationg at an altitude of up to 22,000 feet.
As it's name suggests, the drone has a short range of around 250 kilometers. It can remain in air for up to 12 hours.
Apart from destroying targets, it can be used for collecting near real time, high-quality video and signal intelligence.
The platform is currently being tested to validate its upgraded avionics structure through flight trials and the release of anti-tank guided missile.
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