Is Ghatak UCAV Program getting prioritized over AMCA?

Ghatak or 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.

India’s first indigenous stealth ‘Ghatak’ will make its first steps towards its reality when DRDO developed prototype codenamed SWiFT (stealth wing flying test-bed), which is Ghatak’s scale model will be flown this year.

SWiFT will be fitted with a Russian NPO Saturn 36MT turbofan engine which will act as a flying test bed to record flying characters of the design which already has gone through several years of Wind tunnel refinements. SWiFT features a low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses.

Narendra Modi government as per media reports already has sanctioned 3000 crores to develop a Dry Kaveri engine variant which will power Ghatak. Development of unmanned combat aerial vehicle also has been gaining better speed due to involvements of Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur’s (IIT-K) which has developed several elements which can make a plane invisible to the radars.

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).

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.

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.  Ghatak will be Powered by  Dry Kaveri engine variant

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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