NEW DELHI — India on Friday successfully carried out the first flight of an autonomous technology demonstrator.
The aircraft, launched by Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Establishment under the purview of the state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation, is a scaled-down version of the upcoming Ghatak combat drone. The flight took place at the aeronautical test range based at Chitradurga in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
The airframe, undercarriage, and entire flight control and avionics systems used for the aircraft were domestically developed, the Defence Ministry said in a statement. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh called the flight a major achievement toward autonomous aircraft that will pave the way for Aatmanirbhar Bharat — an economic initiative meant to make India less dependent on foreign technology — in terms of critical military systems.
A scientist with the Aeronautical Development Establishment told Defense News that the flight test of the aircraft — also referred to as the Stealth Wing Flying Testbed, or SWiFT — took place to demonstrate its of ability to take off, climb in altitude, cruise midair, navigate to waypoints, descend and land autonomously.
He noted that the next step is to develop a proven autonomous combat surveillance platform. The scientist spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The 1-ton SWiFT platform is powered by a Russian NPO Saturn 36MT turbofan engine. The platform had completed taxi trials in September 2021.
The Aeronautical Development Establishment will now evaluate the flight data in relation to the aircraft’s configuration, and autonomous takeoff and landing technology, retractable landing gear system, and low radar signature. This effort is meant to inform future modifications to the platform.
A scientist with the Defence Research and Development Organisation noted that at least 10 more flight tests are needed to prove the capability of the SWiFT platform, and only then will the government grant funding for the full-fledged development of the Ghatak UAV.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.