Efforts to speed up development of the Rustom-2 MALE UAV appear to have stalled with neither confirmation on when production will begin nor delivery to the Indian Army, it has emerged.
According to industry sources in India, the aircraft - which is designed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), a wing of the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO)- is due to undergo high speed taxi trials in December.
However, there has been no confirmation on when production and delivery of 76 systems for the Indian Army will start for which a Letter of Interest (LoI) has been released. Specifications in the LoI require the MALE to have an all-weather capability to operate between 25,000 to 36,000 ft, an endurance between 36 to 48 hours, and a cruising speed of at least 90 knots.
Last year, government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Bharat Electronics were asked to take the lead in the manufacture, with DRDO simultaneously ‘considering opening it to the private sector’, V.S Chandra Shekhar, associate director at ADE explained to Shephard.
‘Private companies are strong in development of various aeronautical systems and manufacturing of components….of great importance in UAV development,’ acknowledged Nemichandra, head of UAV development at HAL at a seminar held in Delhi last week.
‘HAL is changing its business model with plans to focus on being an integrator for UAVs,’ she added while confirming: ‘There is no Rustom-3 (as originally envisaged)."
It was also revealed that challenges are being faced on supply of propulsion, sensors and radars. Last month, industry players were formally approached by DRDO to get involved in production of the $196million project in which private players would have to contribute $50million. This effort failed to generate much enthusiasm, Shephard was informed.
‘They used two complete design platforms for Rustom-1 and -2, showing no continuity in thinking. It shows no desire to change,’ said one industry official.
‘Even large companies will not invest in a project they have not been involved in from the design stage, nor given any details about….this design may be heading for obsolence.There’s no point in building something that is not going to work. Other options should be considered,’ said another industry supplier, while referring to partnerships with foreign OEMs tried and tested products.
Meanwhile, HAL’s inability to move on a design for the Navy Rotary UAV, has the Indian Navy and Coast Guard scouting for an international partner. The initial plan aimed at basing the system on the legacy piston-engine Chetak (Aerospatiale Alouette III) helicopter. A major problem faced included the development of systems for landing and take-off from moving maritime platforms.
Speaking at the seminar, Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff (Air) RAdm D.N Sudan described how the navy is ‘looking at participating with Indian industry’.
‘Rotary drones are not easy to perfect. Besides, the platform has to be a modern one,’ added Siddharth Sivaraman, Visiting Fellow of think-tank Observer Research Foundation.
Northrop Grumman, which has already presented its MQ8-B Fire Scout to the navy, was mentioned in the recently extended 10-year India-US Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI). It is likely the MQ-8B, for which MTCR clearance is not required, will come up for discussion soon between the two countries. The Indian Navy had issued a Request for Information in 2011.
The order could likely be clubbed with the Border Security Force, Coast Guard and other agency requirements to justify setting up of a production facility in India, an Indian MoD official said.
Meanwhile, Mahindra Telephonics, a joint venture between India’s Mahindra Defence and US-based Telephonics, is making an offer to the Indian Navy for RDR 1700B/G radar fitted on the MQ-8 Fire Scout. ‘It is cleared for export. We will have few regulatory roadblocks in bringing this to India,’ said SV Chalapati, business head at Mahindra Telephonics.
‘Defence offsets are the mantra today to propel manufacturing. It is time the government looks at giving private players a level playing field by offering infrastructure like test sites and usage of airspace above 500 ft,’ said Avdhesh Khaitan, CEO Kadet Defence Systems.