By Aman Routray and Subodh Sharma
Drones are changing today’s battlefield with every passing day. However, Indian armed forces are late to join this revolution but they are now catching up. The latest foray is towards a compact yet extremely useful system. DRDO’s Lab DYSL is developing a Tandem Wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle that can be launched from a pneumatic pressure launch tube.
Current Scope :
DYSL will engage an Indian company that will have to deliver 5 units of Tandem Wing UAV and two different types of launchers. The idea is to use the same UAV with two different launch mechanisms. The first one will be a pneumatic catapult launcher. This mechanism was used in DRDO Nishant (Image No.2) which never saw services of Indian armed forces. A typical catapult launcher can be seen in the image below (Image No. 1). This type of launcher will be placed on top of the utility vehicle of the Indian armed forces. As shown in (Image no. 3.)
Image 1 : UAV on Catapult Launcher
Image 2 : DRDO Nishant
Image 3 : Drone launched from Pneumatic tube from utility vehicle.
The second launch mechanism is not just interesting but it will open a host of other possibilities and applications. A pneumatic canister-based launcher is also planned. A reference image can be seen in Image 4. This type of launcher can be used as a single man-portable launcher for the battlefield surveillance and attack (As shown in Image 5) or it can be used in batch as shown in Image 6.
Image 4 : Pneumatic Canister single Launcher
Image 5 – Soldiers deploying UAV for Battlefield surveillance.
Image 6 : Multi Launcher – US Navy’s Locust program
Sensors and Applications
This tandem wing system will be a compact assembly where both wings and canards can be folded into the housing making the entire body like a single tube. While launching the pneumatic systems will push the complete assembly out and then this drone will deploy the wings and canards.
In theory, this UAV can carry Electro-Optical (EO) sensors in front of it. Additionally, for a kamikaze-type attack, it can carry a warhead in the center of it. However, the prototype that is planned right now will only carry IR and Day camera.
The UAV will be made using composite material and will have a coating of Radar Absorbent Material (RAM). This will ensure a very low Radar Cross-section Area. A smaller system with a stealth feature flying at a very low altitude will help this system to remain hidden from enemy radars. A swarm of such systems can be easily used in the suppression of enemy air defence missions.
Launch and Recovery
The available information suggests, this system will have three different mechanisms for launching.
- Pneumatic Catapult Single Launcher.
- Pneumatic Canister Single Launcher.
- Pneumatic Canister Multi Launcher.
Whereas for recovery the system will use a parachute mechanism with a soft landing feature. This will allow the reusability of this drone.
The timeline of the development and flight testing is pretty steep. This indicates that DRDO plans to leverage the commercially available technology and incorporate it in the scheme of things. The delivery of all 5 UAV and Launcher mechanisms should be completed in 6 months from the grant of contract.
As said before the UAV will have a Tandem wing foldable configuration. Propulsion will be battery-based electric propulsion with pusher foldable propellers and umbilical charger. The overall length should be 910 MM, Diameter in stowed configuration should be lesser than 120 MM. The front wingspan will be 1400 MM and rear wingspan will be 1100 MM.
The maximum take-off weight (MTOW) should be 8.5 KG and it should be capable of carrying a payload of 3.5 KM. The endurance should be more than 75 minutes and the maximum speed should be 180KM/H.
DRDO has yet not placed a cap on launch altitude, range and launcher dimensions. The surveillance system should have a Thermal and Daylight camera. UAV should also carry a payload with a dimension of 100X90X40 MM. Guidance will be based on RF communication and GPS.
The Battery is one of the most crucial component of any electric powered UAV. The system will have either a Lithium Ion or Lithium polymer battery acquired as Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) system.
Further, the UAV should have an endurance of 60 minutes at the maximum speed of 180 KM/H ( and 75 Minutes at a cruise speed of 162KM/H). The service ceiling is anticipated to be 25,000 ft. The system should have two different types of fail-safe mechanisms, return to home and loitering for command.
This system could be used for multiple missions, from a battlefield surveillance mission to suppression of enemy air defence. The swarm of such system launched from a utility vehicle can be used to take down a large armor column. Effectively this compact system will have enormous use in rapidly changing today’s battlefield.