India launched its first unmanned "autonomous flying wing technology demonstrator" on Friday, marking the nation's first step toward the eventual development of a missile-firing and bomb-dropping stealth combat drone.
The stealth wing flying testbed (SWiFT), a smaller or scaled-down prototype of what would eventually be a remotely-piloted strike aircraft (RPSA), was flown for around 15 minutes from the aeronautical test range in Chitradurga, Karnataka, reports The Times of India.
"Operating in a fully autonomous mode, the aircraft exhibited a perfect flight, including take-off, way point navigation and a smooth touchdown," a scientist of India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said.
"This flight marks a major milestone in terms of proving critical technologies towards the development of future unmanned aircraft and is a significant step towards self-reliance in such strategic defence technologies," he added.
The airframe, undercarriage, entire flight control and avionics systems of the SWiFT have been developed indigenously, though it's currently powered by a small Russian turbofan engine.
The flight of the SWiFT, which weighs over a tonne, 'validated' the flying control laws, navigation and other technical requirements needed to build the much bigger RPSA.
"Some more trials will be required. Then, the cabinet committee on security will have to approve the development of the RPSA, which will cost a few thousand crores. The plan is to power the RPSA with the indigenous Kaveri aero-engine because it will not require an afterburner (meant for supersonic flight)," a source said.
The Indian military has a considerable quantity of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), mainly of Israeli origin, enabling real-time reconnaissance and precision-targeting. Israeli Harop "killer" or Kamikaze drones serve as cruise missiles by exploding upon enemy targets and radars.
There is also the Rs 3,500 crore upgrade programme for over half of the around 80-90 Israeli Heron UAVs inducted by the armed forces over the years with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground anti-tank missiles as well as advanced reconnaissance capabilities under `Project Cheetah', as was earlier reported by TOI.
But India currently does not have full-fledged unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) like the American Predators and Reapers, which are controlled by satellites and can fire missiles on enemy targets before returning to re-arm for further missions.
The proposed $3 billion acquisition of 30 'hunter-killer' armed MQ-9B Predator or Sea Guardian drones from the US is on hold because of the high costs involved and the thrust on indigenization in defence production, as reported by TOI earlier.