AURA is an autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV),The ADA describes the AURA as a “self-defending high-speed reconnaissance UAV with weapon firing capability”.The project is being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation for the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. The design work on the UCAV is to be carried out by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA). Details of the project are classified.
The UCAV will be capable of releasing missiles, bombs and precision-guided munitions. The programme is in its project definition stage. The design is in line with what former DRDO chief controller for Aeronautics said in 2007, that India’s combat drone would be a stealthy flying-wing concept aircraft with internal weapons bay and a turbofan engine.The UCAV’s design is similar to Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spirit.
According to a report prepared by Shiv Aroor, India’s Public sector Aerospace Design Major Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK) who are jointly working on development of India’s first Stealth unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) are planning to carry out first flight trials of a scaled model of Ghatak UCAV by end of this year .
Codenamed SWiFT, short for stealth wing flying testbed, the aircraft is a technology demonstrator being designed and built in collaboration with the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), a government military laboratory in Bengaluru. While the white model is used as a shaping test platform, the black fabricated metal clone of the SWiFT undergoes wind tunnel testing at IIT-K’s in-house facility. And no, these models aren’t just for show.
Top sources associated with the project have confirmed to Livefist that by the end of this year, a prototype SWiFT will be fitted with a Russian NPO Saturn 36MT turbofan engine (which currently powers the Nirbhay cruise missile) and launched on its first flight during the 2018-19 financial year. It will be the first major step in India’s effort to wield an stealthy unmanned aircraft built to fire precision weapons at designated targets in unfriendly airspace.
In the broadest sense, the Ghatak is intended to be an aircraft launched covertly near or over hostile territory, evading enemy sensors by virtue of its stealth, and destroying identified targets with air-to-ground weapons. In a broader sense, such stealth could also be used to gather electronic intelligence or covertly conduct airborne surveillance. Primarily though, the Ghatak is simply being developed as an unmanned bomber (A temporary working title even identified it as the Indian Unmanned Strike Air Vehicle or IUSAV).
In an exclusive interview to Livefist, DRDO chief Dr. S. Christopher made his first ever comments on the Ghatak and SWiFT programs.
“Nobody will share the technologies that go into Ghatak. And that’s the reason why we have committed to building every piece of technology that will make this a proven stealth unmanned combat aircraft,” Christopher told your correspondent in a phone interview from Bengaluru, where has just met with the project leadership. “Whatever beating we have got so far will be nullified. The day when technologies are denied, I can say I have my own.”
While the SWiFT gets set for a first flight in a year, the bigger Ghatak is still a way off, with a first flight near impossible before 2024-25. As the IIT-K team works to finetune the SWiFT/Ghatak’s shape and contours — crucial to its stealth — the DRDO and ADA are working to do two things as quickly as possible: one, understand the study of radar signatures of such an aircraft, a science totally new to Indian aerospace scientists. And two, as crucial, finalise the jet engine that will power the Ghatak in its ultimate configuration.
Dr. Christopher has officially confirmed an exclusive Livefist report from a year ago, revealing plans underway to build a full scale model of the Ghatak for radar signature and electromagnetic signature testing at a facility in Hyderabad.
“We are in the process of making the 1:1 model so that we can prove our RCS reduction capability via shaping and materials. We’ve got five labs working on the material side, while the airframe is completed by ADA. And that is what we are physically making because shape is most important. Shaping is 70 per cent of the signature reduction process. We’ve got an Outdoor Radar Cross Section Test Measurement facility (ORANGE) in Hyderabad which will test the model,” Dr. Christopher said.
Crucial to progress is choosing an engine for the Ghatak. As noted above, the SWiFT technology demonstrator will fly with a Russian mini-turbofan. The bigger Ghatak will need far more growl. And as Livefist reported, power will almost definitely be drawn from a variant of the indigenous Kaveri jet engine.
The Kaveri, developed originally for the LCA Tejas fighter project, has fallen famously short of expectations. However, a partnership with France’s SAFRAN as part of offsets from India’s multi-billion dollar deal for 36 Rafale fighters (Rafales are powered by Safran engines) has set down the modalities for a rescue mission that will save the Kaveri from oblivion, and dust it up for improved performance.
“We are almost at a final understanding with the IAF that we will use the Kaveri dry engine (i.e. non-afterburning). In the Kaveri that we have, we weren’t getting the power that we wanted. It started out with started with 80 kN and then 90 then 98 kNs. In a dry version for Ghatak, even 50 kN will be more than sufficient. We will be finalising that very shortly,” Dr. Christopher said.
The Ghatak effort is also the first independent effort by India to build an unmanned combat air platform. The headwinds such a project faces are singularly onerous. Quite apart from the fundamental stealth technologies that are being developed literally from scratch are the ambitious timelines the DRDO has set for itself despite a cautious approach to the Ghatak.
While India has an array of UAVs to monitor its sensitive borders, it has definitely taken up the challenge of advanced defence and attack systems in the context of the modern network centric warfare scenario. With highly advanced drones in the west like ‘Predators’ armed with precision-guided missiles, India will also be equipped with its indigenous combative smart drone in the near future. Meanwhile, the Indian defence ministry is also keeping an eye out for procurement of UCAVs from the overseas market. A Request for Information for the combat UAVs was issued last year, but the Request for Proposal is pending.
Indian Navy is interested and is exploring ways to get inside Ghatak UCAV program to develop a carrier-borne unmanned combat aerial vehicle which can be adopted to be operated from the Indian Aircraft carrier for strike missions. But developing a carrier-borne unmanned combat aerial vehicle will not only require next level of maturity of the flight control system software it will also require developing a deck handling for launch and recovery mechanisms for the UCAV to operate from aircraft carrier, which will not be easy task and it is likely Airforce version will be cleared first for development.
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