FUTURE STRIKE::India’s Unmanned Combat Aircraft (AURA UCAV) Update
AURA or Ghatak is categorically the least known project of DRDO. The project is kept under a cloak of secrecy since its inception & the details are known to very few people with the highest level of security clearance.
It is a tactical unmanned aerial vehicle with stealth technologies, built largely of composites, capable of delivering laser guided bombs (LGBs) without being detected. It is classified as MALE (Medium altitude long endurance). Ghatak will be a flying wing design much like the Sentinel UCAV (Beast of Kandahar).
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.
What is Need/Purpose of AURA?
The purpose of the DRDO is to provide the Indian Air force with an option to deliver the payloads to enemy location without endangering the life of the pilot . This will act along side with the HAL AMCA , the 5thGenerations of fighter aircrafts that will start showing up on the IAF inventory towards the end of this decade or start of the next. The AURA program is also meant to compete with the other programs to provide the IAF with the best technically advanced UCAV which will form the backbone of the airforce in the next decade .
AURA will also be able to carry weapons in internal storage which will allow air force to operate them in contested access or denied enemy airspace. ADA is currently collaborating with various Universities to prepare basic technological developments before the project goes official.
2010: Its existence was revealed to Public domain a decade ago as IUSA (Indian Unmanned Strike Aircraft) when DRDO acknowledged the presence of such a project.
2015: It was redesignated as “Ghatak” from AURA (Autonomous unmanned research vehicle).
2017: Official government funding began for building a prototype. Note that due to security concerns, the Government didn’t fund the project officially from the start. Government of India never wanted to acknowledge that there is a secret project before 2017.
It was this time when two educational institutions were roped in. IIT Bombay (Mumbai) started conducting airflow tests on the serpentine air intakes of the Ghatak UCAV (CGI pic above).
IIT Kanpur on the other hand started wind tunnel testing on a low radar cross section engine intake (pic above).
When the word spread about India developing such an UCAV, several companies like Dassault, Boeing, BAe systems, Mikoyan, Sukhoi who are developing similar projects, offered to collaborate for the mutual development. Any such partnership although is still in secrecy, what we know is that DRDO is firm on it’s stand that for developing the “stealth part” of the Ghatak, it’ll not collaborate with any other company but will be dependent on IITs & private institutions.
This is because many of the stealth technologies are shared between Ghatak & AMCA & HAL/DRDO didn’t want to share any bit from the AMCA project.
The Ghatak might use advanced technologies & software from the Dassault nEUROn UCAV (pic below) as Dassault & DRDO are in talks under the offset commitments from the Rafale Deal.
As of 2017, a full scale model was developed jointly by ADA & a private company, which of course is still unnamed to common public. The full scale model was being used to test detection range & dry radar cross section i.e. without wideband radar absorbing coatings.
From 2018, a miniature technology demonstrator (TD) called Stealth Wing Flying Testbed (SWiFT) was under construction by the ADA & IIT Kanpur. This would use the NPO saturn engine used in the Nirbhay Cruise missile. The first flight of the TD is scheduled in 2021, which anyways won’t be covered by media. The first flight of a full scale prototype is scheduled by 2024 & the Ghatak will be operational with IAF by 2026 if timelines are adhered.
There is s good reason to think that timelines will be adhered as the project is still almost on track even after 10 years of development. Flight control system & data link package is already developed by Defence Electronics Application Laboratory (DEAL).
Most details are undisclosed but what we know is Ghatak will have a cruise altitude of 30,000 to 40,000 feet & a combat weight of less than 15 tons. It’ll have two bays on either side of the engine for 2 laser guided bombs.
Rest details of the project are highly classified. Wish to see the Ghatak flying in the skies in a very near future.
Source:- Subhadeep Paul Quora