Explained: Features of the unmanned combat aircraft that India successfully tested

India on Friday conducted its first flight test of its self-driving flying wing technology demonstration, which is said to be a precursor to future combat drones. We explain what testing means for the development of stealth unmanned combat air vehicles for the armed forces.

the test

The model car was tested at the flight test range located in Chitradurga in Karnataka on Friday. While operating in a fully autonomous mode, it demonstrated perfect flight, according to the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). Both the car’s take-off, and the automatic navigation that tracks selected points – waypoint navigation and touch – were implemented with the required accuracy.

“This flight represents a milestone in terms of demonstrating technologies vital in the development of future drones and is an important step towards self-reliance in such strategic defense technologies,” the Ministry of Defense said.

The renderer was developed by the Aeronautical Development Corporation (ADE), a Bengaluru-based facility of DRDO working in the fields of unmanned aerial vehicles, flight simulators, target drones, ordeal control systems and aerial weapons. Congratulating DRDO, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh Rajnath Singh said it is a major achievement towards autonomous aircraft and will pave the way for ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ in terms of critical military systems.

What is distinctive about it or what is distinctive about it?

DRDO officials highlighted the technology demonstrator’s flying wing structure, which refers to a fixed-wing, tailless aircraft that has its payload and fuel in its main wings and does not have a structure similar to the specific fuselage found in a conventional aircraft. DRDO scientists say the design has the potential to provide high fuel efficiency and stealth, if executed with precision, as evidenced by some of the advanced bombers in the US arsenal such as the B-2.

The officials added that the flying wing type of aircraft has a major operational advantage because it has low reflective cross sections which results in a low radar signature, making it a stealth machine. Because of the shape, the plane also has very low drag or air resistance. However, this unique design also comes with its own stability issues and therefore requires additional systems.

The airframe – the basic mechanical structure of the aircraft, and the undercarriage – the landing gear used for take-off, landing and full flight control were developed along with the avionics systems used in the demonstrator. The car is powered by a small turbine engine which is an air-breathing jet engine.

How will it help in the development of combat drones in the future?

DRDO scientists said that this technology demonstration will undergo further tests to examine other technologies in the development of combat drones in the future. Tests will also be conducted on the scale and capacity of the vehicle. The sources said the Flying Wing Technology Demonstrator is a precursor to an Autonomous Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) being developed by DRDO, primarily for the Indian Air Force. A deck-launched version for the Indian Navy is also said to be in the pipeline. UCAV will be able to fire precision-guided missiles and munitions.

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DRDO has in the past developed several UAVs, such as Nishant, Rustom, Tapas, Lakshya, and others, which have different capabilities and operational roles. In July last year, DRDO also unveiled its anti-drone technology that aims to neutralize enemy attacks. The system has the ability to launch counterattacks, including detection and soft kill – to jam the drone’s communication links) and hard kill – and laser-based hard kill to destroy the drone to neutralize enemy drones.

Several scenarios in the recent past, both in India and abroad, have highlighted the strategic importance of having combat drones in the arsenal. Experts said that while the Indian armed forces currently operate a mix of domestically developed and imported UAVs, an all-domestic stealth combat machine is the need of the hour.

While some reports indicate that the UCAV will be titled Ghatak (the killer) or a self-driving research drone, the agency has not officially released the details.

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