Friday, June 11, 2010

AURA: India's UCAV Programme

Deep inside a non-descript building in Bangalore’s Vimanapura area, Indian military scientists are working hard to define the country’s first unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), one of India’s least known government-sponsored defence programmes. Still classified and “off the books”, the programme is steeped in conceptualizing a robotic drone aircraft that can autonomously seek, identify and destroy targets with on-board guided weapons.

According to information made available for the first time, the project has a typically evasive name – AURA, for Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft. But the working title of the drone aircraft itself leaves nothing to the imagination – Indian Unmanned Strike Aircraft Programme (IUSAP). In other words, a pilotless bomber.

The AURA programme is currently under the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), and led by aerospace scientist Biju Uthup, who has worked with the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA Tejas) programme in several capacities. Sources reveal that the AURA team is currently conducting a detailed feasibility study of possible parameters under which the aircraft will finally be built. The plan is to develop the IUSAP as a tactical stealth aircraft built largely with composites, and capable of delivering laser-guided strike weapons.

Air Marshal (Retd) Tej Asthana, India’s first Strategic Forces commander says, “We must encourage the programme, and ensure that it stays as Indian as possible. We cannot import UCAVs. It is important for us to have a programme like this to get us in line with the best in the world.”

The AURA programme is, to be fair, still only a concept, and therefore well behind a large number of global combat drone programmes that are either fully operational or near, the most famous of them being the American MQ-1 Predator hunter-killer drone that has garnered a fearsome name for itself as America’s weapon of choice along the Durand Line.

“It would have been prudent if we had started a programme like this 20 years ago,” says Air Marshal (Retd) Padamjit Ahluwalia, who once headed the Air Force’s sword arm Western Air Command. “This is an aircraft that will use artificial intelligence for actual weapon delivery. It is a great thing that it is indigenous, because believe me, no country that has this technology will give it to us. We must make sure we get the sensors and weapons bang-on.”

The parameters of the IUSAP, like range, cruising altitude and sensor/weapon specifications are still unknown, and probably still undefined. Another element that will need thorough working out is the degree of autonomy such an aircraft can be given. For instance, all attack decisions on the American Predators operating in Pakistan are taken by ground controllers.

Former Air Force Chief, FH Major says, “We could have the finest autonomous pilotless vehicles. But that last minute decision to go for the target, abandon or reframe a mission will be difficult for a UCAV. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have huge scope.”

India currently operates unarmed Israel-built drones restricted to surveillance and intelligence-gathering duties, and has ordered a limited number of Harop loitering "kamikaze drones" from the same source. For the AURA programme, there are several challenges still ahead apart from the flying vehicle itself. These include on-board electronics, sensors, guidance systems, and of course, strike weapons that can be used on the platform.

With government funds to be spent on the AURA programme, there are seasoned skeptics as well. Former Air Force Chief, S Krishnaswamy, who flew combat missions in the 1965 Indo-Pak war, “Such research is definitely necessary, but the more we venture into unknown areas the greater the risk of time and cost overruns. We should ask ourselves if such a systems fits in with our requirement at this time. There should be safeguards to ensure it doesn’t turn into another joke like the Light Combat Aircraft.”

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

The IAF was a joke in innovative ways and new products because of people like S Krishnaswamy who discouraged indigenous development. The attitude of the IAF was to mock the team building the Tejas rather than keenly participating in the project. Shame that the same attitude exists even today with retired personnel. We are not a nation of magicians that we can pull a fighter in one day from our Musharraf. LCA is the first attempt to indigenous tech and we have succeeded in that. This will replace Mig-21's and AMCA which will be better will replace the Jaguars and Mirages. The new leadership of IAF seem not shy or afraid of technological innovation. We have full faith in DRDO go ahead and built the best combat UAV. All the best to DRDO and the new generation leaders of the IAF. All the best.

Anonymous said...

Wish drdo to make such ucav on time.!

Anonymous said...

"off the books" stands for zero accountability , if DRDO books had any.

Anonymous said...

not impressed at all get the Tejas in mass production then ill be happy

Anonymous said...

Awesome views from former ACM Krishnaswamy.
So we dont venture into "unknown areas" whatever that means, and then 20 years down the line when everybody after spending 20 years pursuing "unknown areas" field a system, we would happily import it!

And then what is so funny about the LCA that the respected ACM calls it a joke? The use of composites? digital fly by wire with quadruple redundancy?

What is he comparing it with? F-22? Well weren't all aspect stealth and supercruising and internal weapon bays too much of "unknown areas" 20 years ago when the F22 program started?

What a joke!

Anonymous said...

Even the mighty Typhoon which took decades for the final product roll out, still is considered far from perfect by many. If this is the result of collaboration of Germany, Britain, France (for some time), Italy and Spain, then our Tejas is no mean achievement which was almost completely developed indigenously.

In order to remain competitive, we need to position ourselves in the direction where winds of change are blowing. UCAVs are the future of armed conflicts. USA completely annihilated the Iraqis(one of the largest and most experienced combat forces) bcoz the Iraqis couldn't compete on the tech front. Brute strength alone won't win us battles. Although we claim we are developing this AURA indigenously, I have a feeling that EADS and Israelis are also involved in this project.

Anonymous said...

A lot depends on the "vision" of the end-user which takes the shape of "requirements". Whatever requirements you seek in a platform has to be based on your vision of future not present.

LCA is not a joke because it took so long. It became a joke because end-user set requirements for a "Light" combat aircraft when the world moved towards the heavy combat aircraft. It is lack of vision on part of end-users.

Same way all stealth programmes began in 1980s when such information was not published. We could not begin AMCA because there was no published info to copy/paste our requirements from ! Either the end-user should vision to forecast OR it should have other sources of info to tell which way the world is headed.

UCAV is the way to go and I am glad it has begun.

Anonymous said...

So now no less a person than ACM Krishnaswamy is a traitor for criticising the Last Combat Aircraft? Or should that be Lost Combat Aircraft?

Anonymous said...

"There should be safeguards to ensure it doesn’t turn into another joke like the Light Combat Aircraft."

What the HELL was that !!

coolgeek said...

Well we need to innovate and all our systems should be self reliant. However as long as we depend only on DRDO for our requirements we are going nowhere... we need to give the work to private players. Imagine banking system, IT, Manufacturing if they are only done by public enterprises... We have to learn from other's good/bad experiences... its nice to remind people that the predator drones are manufactured by General Atomics a private company...

MRUGEN said...

DRDO must get define the project parameters well in time and spearhead using the immense talent pool of engineering minds we have in India.
We need to study the best drones for capabilities and create a "Lean-Mean" machine that can take on mantle of a strike mission with varied needs for eg: a surgical strike beyond our borders to eliminate some terrorist leader.

I hope DRDO incorporates some stealth into it along with other upcoming technologies like Image processing,AI etc.

IAF must encourage and sustain such projects that not only bolster our Defence preparation but also lead us in a way of self-reliance and Indigenisation in right spirit so we match with the best but outperform them in all due respects.
Jai Hind ...

amit said...

i m proud of our tejas it is better than the f15 or f16 .

Anonymous said...

make a proto first and give public announcements!!!!This is like no wife,no pregancy,but the name of the son -in -law is ramalingam!!!! LOLz... jokes apart ,best of luck ADA!!!

Anonymous said...

"i m proud of our tejas it is better than the f15 or f16 ."

Made my day . best joke of the year. Dude - please give me whatever you are smoking :))

Tarun Mitra said...

@ Anonymous @ 9:05 AM

Go and lick your Dear America's ASS

Anonymous said...

I respect Mr. Krishanaswamy's opinion in a constructive way. You guys should look at from the end user perspective who waited for this machine more eagerly than any one on this forum.

Saying all this it gives me immense confidence to see Tejas cruising towards the IOC and I wish DRDO a very heartful best of luck for the new ventures.


Now Govt of India's intervention in devising the DRDO's org structure will deliver the results.

Ram said...

Tejas is the smallest combat fighter ever developed in the world. It radar signature is relatively low. Its heat signature from after burner is similar to F-16 since the present engine is used in F-16. Its high speed manouverability lies in its tandem wing. It may not be the best on the world but definitely one of the best in the world.

sudip das (sudipdas@engineer.com) said...

It is high time Indian armed forces matures and decides to venture into "unknown areas" , encourage indigineous platforms , develop a strategic plan wherein indigineous platforms plays a major role , and grows into a force projection armed forces instead of a PAK Centric one .

Anonymous said...

No wait!
But seriously, what was the "joke"?

Anonymous said...

To the unintiated like S Krishnaswamy the program may seem like a waste of time. It is however the the precusor to unmanned fighter aircraft, the performance of which will not be restricted by the endurance and frailities of a human pilot.

Anonymous said...

To the unintiated like S Krishnaswamy the program may seem like a waste of time. It is however the the precusor to unmanned fighter aircraft, the performance of which will not be restricted by the endurance and frailities of a human pilot.

Anonymous said...

To the unintiated like S Krishnaswamy the program may seem like a waste of time. It is however the the precusor to unmanned fighter aircraft, the performance of which will not be restricted by the endurance and frailities of a human pilot.

Anonymous said...

If the air force is interested in winning the hearts and minds of the 'thinking Indian' then they have to show true commitment to indigenisation.

While suggested improvements, they have to work with the system to get the best results possible.

How do they think that we can develop smart UCAVs without going through the required learning from programs like the LCA.

Krishnaswamy is a moron who should apologise for his unthinking remarks.

Anonymous said...

I have had a glimpse of a new uav being developed by DRDO. The uav was being tested in HAL Airport, Bangalore. I got to see a glimpse of it. They were flying it low and also showed some decent stunts. I am not sure if it is the rustom but it was awesome.

Anonymous said...

The other day I was actually dreaming of small 20 foot jets made of plastic carrying just 2 R-73 or some such missile. Swarms of them - each costing maybe 2 lakhs(excluding missiles). A 1000 of them rising up on the break out of hostilities from small clearings in punjab, Rajastan etc and from Arusnachal ladakh etc facing china going on CAP. Any babur Kabur would be kaput inside pukistan.no puki aircraft will dare rise as suddenly a pin point in their radar may spew an AAM at them at close range giving no time to react. What a vision. Along with AURA they should consider this also.

Anonymous said...

Who ever doubts indias capability in making super weapons be ready for surprises in the near future !

Anonymous said...

what ACM krishnamurthy said is merely the truth. LCA in fact is a joke. the fact is the plane is not suitable for combat. rather sadly the brilliant scientists choose to go abroad, and the incompetent ones are left designing the stuff in India. its a fact and its better we live with it. lets see whos right in 20 yrs, i bet all of u, the Aura project would be nowhere.

Bill the Butcher said...

India has been building a fighter for the last thirty years which is yet to see squadron service. It's been building an intermediate trainer which broke up on the runway, a tank too heavy for the country's bridges and too wide for its trains to carry, and an AWACS system which was abandoned after it crashed from stabilty problems caused by the radome. Expecting India to be able to actually build this system, as opposed to talking about it, is futile. Anonymous who said "LCA in fact is a joke. the fact is the plane is not suitable for combat. rather sadly the brilliant scientists choose to go abroad, and the incompetent ones are left designing the stuff in India. its a fact and its better we live with it. lets see whos right in 20 yrs, i bet all of u, the Aura project would be nowhere. " is completely correct.