By Nikhil Abhishek Mishra
Reported in HAL yearly report recently, HAL tagged HAL Elbit MoU as an important event. During the defense expo, 2020 India’s publicly owned HAL (Hindustan Aeronautical Limited) and Israel’s Elbit system signed a deal to make a RUAV (Rotary Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). The MoU was signed by Mr. Arup Chatterjee, Director (Engg. and R&D), HAL, and Mr. Roy Zentner, VP (Business Dev. & Marketing), Elbit Systems. It was signed in the presence of R Madhavan, Chairman of HAL, and senior officials from HAL and Elbit Systems at DefExpo 2020 exposition in Lucknow, India on Feb. 5 2020.
Elbit Systems is an Israeli Defense Electronics Company with a world-class equipment manufacturing capability for a wide variety of operations be it ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance), HMD’s (Helmet Mounted Display’s), EW(Electronic Warfare)-SUITE’S, SIG-INT (Signal Intelligence), Military Aviation, Naval Systems, Training & Simulation, etc…They also signed a contract for HMD’s (Helmet Mounted Display) with HAL on for Fighter pilots.
The MOU is signed for assessing the feasibility of a completely new 2 Ton platform mainly for the Indian Navy. The initial capabilities of this type of platform are that of efficiency in operation with additional capabilities of conducting operations like Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). This RUAV will be a HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) capable.
Some of the main capabilities of the R-UAV’s are as follows:
- V-TOL (Vertical Take-Off & Landing).
- Ability to take off and land from any terrain.
- Hovering at lower altitudes where fixed-wing drones cannot go.
- Great Reconnaissance ability through camera and sensors with stability in the pictures.
- Higher maneuverability at lower speeds.
- Multiple sensors can be fitted for multiple missions on a single RUAV.
- Can also act as a Mobile Sonar/AWACS to extend the range of operations and information awareness of the forces.
The V-TOL capability of any R-UAV makes it a highly fuel-efficient platform and highly versatile in terms of launch options and roles it can perform because it can be launched from any platform be it ship, aircraft carrier, Land as well as mobile platforms and from any terrain.
Apart from this, it is cheaper to maintain these machines as they are more efficient and reduces the cost of operations and maintenance. HAL is aware of the requirements of the Armed Forces of India and has been working on the smaller RUAV model whose design was unveiled as well in the Defense Expo 2020 as well. This RUAV is much smaller in size with a weight of 200 kg with a stated capability of 200 Km. range and endurance of 6 hrs., a service ceiling of 6,000 meters and can carry a payload of 40 Kgs., the fuselage of which is 4.2 m long and 1.28 m wide. It also has a capability of AV-TOL (Automatic Vertical Take-Off and Landing). It is specifically designed for the requirements of the Indian Army and Navy. HAL has developed it in collaboration with ADE (Aeronautical Development Establishment) and IIT (Indian Institute of Technology)-Kanpur.
Under this new program, there are talks of converting the Chetak/Chetan (upgraded Chetak with Turbomeca tm333 engine) and Cheetah Helicopters into Test Bed for developing and testing the sensors and other capabilities on them to assess their feasibility under different roles from ISR to Air Combat, Ground Support and Logistics Support in treacherous posts/areas of the country like Siachin or in Northeast Jungles where connectivity is still very far and Logistics support is a lifeline for soldiers in those areas and it can be done through these platforms under any situation without putting the life of pilots in danger. Earlier, also in 2017, HAL had invited the bids to convert its CHEETAH & Chetak helicopters into unmanned UAV’s. The program is not new for HAL as in 2008 a similar attempt was made in collaboration with MALAT an IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries) unit which did not bore desired fruits.
However, now the situation has completely changed because of the situation prevailing on the borders and especially in the seas where China has deployed its newly inducted Harbin BZK-005 in operations which is a MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) UAV with a cruising speed of around 170 km/h, service ceiling 8,000 m, max takeoff weight is around 1,200 kg and max payload over 150 kg. and its interests in Asian littorals are not hidden from anyone and thus, there needs to be a greater impetus on this platform as the Indian Navy has been demanding helicopters since 2004 which have not been fulfilled yet.
There is a greater focus for Surveillance of the Strategic Points in the Indian Ocean especially the key points of Malacca Strait, Selat Sunda Strait and through multiple entry points near Bali sea, as there lies a multiple entry points surveillance all of them needs to be done efficiently and it can be done through R-UAV’S without causing any fatigue amongst the pilots.
This project once completed may also open the new avenues of revenue for the already cash strapped HAL. HAL has some experience in this field by producing LAKSHAY-a Target Drone, Maintaining the MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) drones of the Indian Army like Heron, under development projects like Rustom or scrapped projects like Nishant.