Tejas UCAV ::INDIA’s Unmanned Fighter Jet Of The Future Cleared
In what would break new ground, India has started work on developing an unmanned combat version of the home-grown light combat aircraft (LCA), with a task group being constituted to study how to convert the fighter for a futuristic role.
Dr. Girish Shantaram Deodhare who is Director of Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) has confirmed to Indian media that after Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is granted to Tejas Mark-1 by this July, ADA has been cleared by Government of India (GOI) to commence work on the development of Unmanned Tejas.
The concept of an unmanned Tejas was first publicised in 2008 that a news came in that HAL would derive an unmanned variant of Tejas. In 2008, Then DRDO Chief M Natarajan in an interview to Defence journal had first contemplated the idea of developing unmanned LCA-Tejas which could be adopted to be used as an advanced UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle). Then in March 2017 it was massively reported that a team has already started work on the project to convert the LCA into a drone and India’s premier aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is confident that the project can be carried out within a short time frame.
Unmanned aircraft won’t have to risk precious life’s of Pilots and unmanned Tejas will also be considerably cheaper to produce since it will not require much equipment which is required on manned Tejas. Unmanned aircraft can also work in tandem with manned aircraft and can keep pilots in command over any mission.
“We have started an internal study on making a unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) on the Tejasplatform. Besides, we are confident on coming up with an unmanned version of Chetak helicopter as well,” HAL Chief T Suvarna Raju told ET.
Converting a semi stealth 4+ gen. fighter into a UCAV is quite feasible in India where the cruel environment of Himalayas have taken more lives of pilots than enemy fire power. Earlier conversion of a fighter into trainer has been done so that these fighters could be used as a target practice. Here the displays, the life support systems,the ejection seat and various other systems would be replaced by a large antenna that receives satellite navigation based commands. To operate a UCAV beyond line of sight of a ground based antenna, a robust satellite navigation is needed. Earlier only Americans had it so the developed predator drones. With an indigenous satellite navigation a flying high level unmanned bomber would killer.
India is already developing a stealth UCAV named Ghatak, but the load carrying capacity of such UCAVs is quite decent. The Tejas may be a light fighter but if converted into UCAV and judged by that standards Unmanned LCA would be a high capacity one.
Converting Manned fighters into Unmanned drones are nothing new, United States Air Force (USAF) has been converting jet fighters as target drones for decades, beginning in the 1960s when the Air Force converted 24 Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jets into target drones and is following up with orders for 210 QF-16 target drones. USAF is largely using this converted manned fighter aircraft as target drones to test the efficiency of their Air Defence System and to also train their Air Defence station crew in live exercises.
The conversion of a full-fledged fighter system into an unmanned platform is an onerous task. Apart from the easier material changes, including removal of non-essential items (actually not a simple task on the Tejas, as maintainability roadblocks have shown), the conversion of the Tejas — like Boeing’s conversion of the F-16 to the QF-16 — will involve major changes to the flight control system (FCS). The conversion will also involve the installation of a kill switch/flight termination system to make sure ground control can destroy the aircraft in flight and the addition of telemetry sensors and systems. But the centrepiece of the conversion will be the Tejas FCS. Because the current FCS is designed keeping in mind the health capabilities of a human pilots and intended to filter out human errors. The FCS would be completely new.
QF-16: Unmanned derivative of F-16. QF-16 will replace the current QF-4 Full scale aerial target fleet and will act as a fourth-generation airborne target representing today’s airborne threats. It will also support the evaluation of fielded air-to-air missile (AAM) capabilities, while offering live missile training for combat air crews.
China, on the other hand, has used and converted its surplus PLAAF fighters into rudimentary drones Based primarily on the J-6 (MiG-19 clone) J-7 (MiG-21 clone) platforms to further their UAV and UCAV programs in the past. But Western Experts do also believe that China might use this Unmanned fighter drones to overwhelm Superior Western Air Defence system in an air combat environment without risking its Manned Fighter aircraft.
Unmanned Tejas in next phase of development will feature a high degree of Autonomous functions in its capability which will reduce intervention of the remote pilot. Autonomous functions will start from the basic function of Auto Takeoff and landing function and will expand further as software and hardware mature into mission-specific roles.
Economics and survivability issues aside, the research HAL is conducting on the familiar Tejas platform could have deep experimental value going forward. In a best case scenario, it gives HAL fundamental experience in flight control system architecture for unmanned/autonomous systems in combat envelopes — something very far from what it has even thought of attempting so far. Skeptics would argue that HAL has chosen to do the most difficult task first, though others suggest that this is low-risk option for very valuable research and will not require additional resources, especially since this is technology no country will share without very expensive benefits. Of course, if things click, a possible target drone version of the Tejas for air combat training (like the QF-16) is a possibility.
Tejas UCAV could be the techonology demonstrator for future UCAV and bring Indian forward in the market of combat drones, with the capabilities of autonomous takeoff and landing along with the need of zero human assistance to carry out any mission unmanned Tejas can open enormous possibilities of development as well business for India.
India is also working on some ambitious projects in the category of unmanned vehicles. India has developed Rustom series of reconnaissance drones, ground-based mine and IED disposable UGV’s known as Daksh.An armed version of Daksh is also present who have a machine gun and a grenade launcher deployed on an arm which can move 360 degree. Apart from such small projects India has also tried its hand on the recent global trend, various countries are now developing and searching for the technology to keep the humans out of the machine
HAL is also scouting an international partner to spin off an unmanned version of the Chetak helicopter.