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ADE Steps Into New Decade With Planeloads of Critical Projects; Ambitious SWIFT Combat UAV, Nirbhay Test Soon

The Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) is warming up to undertake a series of missions in the year 2021, leaving behind the uncertainties of a pandemic year that also saw minor setbacks.

ADE which celebrated its 62nd Raising Day recently has been given the mandate of developing variants of subsonic missiles and unmanned platforms.

According to sources, ADE scientists are now gearing up for the second test of the Nirbhay variant – the Indigenous Technology Cruise Missile (ITCM).


The ITCM-02 with the Small Turbo Fan Engine (STFE) will undertake another flight trial in the next few months. The first mission of ICTM with STFE wasn’t a complete success. ADE is also poised to hand over the first Full Mission Simulator (FMS) for Light Combat Aircraft Tejas to the Indian Air Force (IAF).

IAF Test Pilots have been using the FMS at ADE facilities for some years now, and based on their feedback ADE made several upgradations to its systems.

Sources said that the FMS from ADE requires minimum maintenance and offers long and realistic flight training options on ground for squadron pilots. A new facility has been earmarked for housing FMS systems, which is likely to be inaugurated this year.

Rustom-II

On the unmanned front, the scientists are burning the midnight oil to meet the IAF requirements for Rustom-II (Tapas), the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). More flight trials of Rustom-II this year to prove various endurance, range and altitude requirements set by user.

Rustom-II has achieved eight-hour flight endurance at 22,000 feet and efforts are now on to take the endurance closer to 24 hours at 30,000 feet, as per the user mandate.

Last year, Rustom-II had flown in the Satellite Communication (SATCOM) mode for the first time. It had also flown with the long range electro optical payload.

Rustom-II has already flown with a 250-km line of sight, sources said.

A proposal for a high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) UAV is likely to be sent to the government this year, for which the engine will come from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

Abhyas – the High-speed Expendable Aerial Target (HEAT)

On Abhyas – the High-speed Expendable Aerial Target (HEAT), sources said that the open and closed loop trials have been completed. The Transfer of Technology (ToT) for Abhyas is expected to happen this year.

Abhyas can be launched from a zero-length launcher by two 68 mm rockets, and fly up to an altitude of 5 km at a speed of 180 met/sec. The platform has a maximum endurance of 45 minutes and weighs around 70kg. This low cost platform has modular construction, is easy to handle, is equipped with auto-pilot and a simple launcher, and can be deployed in a decoy role as well.

Transfer of Technology for Abhyas expected this year.

Work on the submarine-launched cruise missile too is in progress, with several systems under production now.

Flagship Mission

ADE was nominated to undertake work on India’s ambitious and less-talked-about unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) last year. A small team of scientists has been working on a mini-variant of the mission for the last one year.

The Stealth Wing Flying Testbed (SWiFT) UAV, which is the precursor technology demonstrator project of UCAV, will see some development flights this year.

DRDO DG (Aero Clusters) Dr Tessy Thomas and ADE Director Dr S Venugopal have their tasks cut out with multiple projects on mission mode.

Interestingly, the name ‘Ghatak’ given to the UCAV, seems to have been dropped now.

Sources confirm that UCAV is likely to become a flagship program for India, with the government completely banking on the capabilities promised by the DRDO top brass.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) nod for the UCAV too is expected this year, based on the results of SWiFT.

The Indian Navy too is keen on a deck-based UCAV, sources said.

Armed roles for Rustom-I (R-I) too are being looked at currently and the scientists would begin testing of new systems and payloads for the same this year.

The Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have shown interest in such systems.

ATR Expansion

The Aeronautical Test Range (ATR) at Challakere in Chitradurga, which is under the command of ADE, will see some upgradation activities this year. The runway length is likely to be extended from 2 km to 3 km, in addition to the setting up of a high-power computing facility.

Defence Research and Development Organisation Chairman Dr G Satheesh Reddy, Director-General (Aero Cluster) Dr Tessy Thomas and ADE Director Dr S Venugopal are said to have spelt out their vision for the lab during their Foundation Day addresses.

Established in 1959, ADE began its journey as an independent DRDO lab, with aeronautical projects such as Nandi hovercraft and Dart target.

During Defence Expo 2020, ADE scientists have already began work on the LRLACM (Long Range Land Attack Cruise Missile), which will have a range of over 1,000 km.

The Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) had cleared the proposal for LRLACM in July last year.

ADE steps into a new decade with loads of exciting and challenging missions. While the top brass wants unique products that can work miracles for the armed forces, ADE scientists are hoping to get their act together and do the right things, the right way at the right time.

“Two hundred per cent commitment is the key,” says an official.

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