Tuesday, 12 April 2011

India's AURA (Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft) Project

India’s premier defence agency DRDO is developing an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), which it has named ‘Aura’.
DRDO is quietly going ahead with an ambitious programme to develop its own stealth UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) or 'smart' drones capable of firing missiles and bombs at enemy targets with precision.
Talking about the secretive AURA (autonomous unmanned research aircraft) programme for the first time, Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) informed that the aim is to develop the UCAVs for IAF in seven to eight years.
Three DRDO laboratories – the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the Aeronautical Development Establishments (ADE) and the Defence Avionics and Research Establishment (DARE) – have joined hands to design and develop Aura.
The flight control system and data link packages of Aura will be designed and developed jointly by ADE and Defence Electronic Application Laboratory, Dehradun, according to Technology Focus, a bi-monthly journal published by DRDO.
The unmanned aircraft will fly at altitudes of 3,000 feet with payloads. It will have short take-off and landing capability on prepared runway, the journal said, elaborating on the combat drone’s key features.
Earlier in September, P S Subramanyam, project director and chief of ADA, had said that all technologies required for the UCAV had been identified, and the most important of them were its flying wing and stealth technology.
The combat drone, which will be able to detect and identify targets, and even fire weapons at them, will be controlled with command and control centres (CCC) spread across the country, DRDO Chief, V K Saraswat had revealed last year.
"With Rs 50 crore as seed money, a full-fledged project team with 15-18 scientists has already begun work on the UCAV's preliminary design and technology. With on-board mission computers, data links, fire control radars, identification of friend or foe, and traffic collision avoidance systems, they will be highly intelligent drones," DRDO's chief controller R&D (aeronautics) Dr Prahlada said.
"Capable of flying at altitudes of 30,000 feet and weighing less than 15 tonnes, the UCAVs will have rail-launching for the missiles, bombs and PGMs (precision-guided munitions) they will carry," he added.
The realisation that UCAVs are "game-changers in modern-day warfare" has been reinforced by the successful use of American 'Predator' and 'Reaper' drones, armed with Hellfire and other missiles, against the Taliban in the Af-Pak region.
"But unlike Predators, which are like aircraft, our UCAVs will be more of 'a flying-wing' in design. This will ensure they have a low radar cross-section to evade enemy sensors," said Dr Prahlada.
Pakistan, incidentally, has been after the US to get Predators but so far has only managed to extract assurances for supply of the unarmed 'Shadow' drones for intelligence-gathering missions.
DRDO, on its part, is confident of developing the UCAVs mainly on its own, with "some foreign consultancy or collaboration" in fields like stealth as well as autonomous short-run take-off and landing.
Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) at Bangalore is the main nodal DRDO lab for the AURA project, with others like Defence Avionics Research Establishment (Bangalore), Defence Electronics Application Lab (Dehradun) and Gas Turbine Research Establishment (Bangalore) chipping in.
UCAVs are much more advanced, almost like fighter jets in the sense that they let loose missiles on enemy targets before returning to home bases to re-arm themselves for the next mission.
IAF is also exploring "add-ons or attachments" to its existing fleet of Israeli Heron and Searcher-II UAVs to upgrade them from their present surveillance and precision-targeting roles into some sort of combat drones.
Read more about killer drones of Indian Army and Navy