India’s defense forces will require more than 5,000 UAVs in the coming ten years. If successful, the soon-to-be-tested Rustom II will eliminate the need for India to import UAVs from the US and Israel. India’s homemade medium altitude long endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Rustom II is due for its first test flight by the end of this month. If successful, Rustom II, manufactured by the state-run Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), can eliminate the need to import American Predator drones or Israel’s Heron drones. India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar will witness the test flight.
According to the Ministry of Defense, “Rustom-II is being designed to operate at up to 30,000 ft above mean sea level altitude (AMSL) with an endurance of 24 hours from take-off to landing, with synthetic aperture radar and long range electro-optic payloads (up to 350 kg) at 20,000 ft. It is designed to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for the Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force.”
Rustom II has a range of up to 250 km; however, sources says that first flight will cover approximately 100 km.
Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retired) says, “India desperately needs to have a good program for UAVs because China already has 1b500 UAVs and they are making 40-50 different types of UAVs. There are a large number of manufacturers in China which are doing it and, of course, until now, we have depended on Israeli systems. Now, the specifications which we have given to ourselves for Rustom are very good. But, we only hope that ultimately Rustom will be good. In any UAV there are basically two things which are critical; one is the quality of auto-pilot which the UAV has and second is the quality of the data link between ground and the UAV through satellite or whatever.”
Sources says that Rustom II will be more cost effective as it is pegged at USD 34 million per unit in comparison to Israel’s Heron TP, which consumes a higher share from the limited budget of the Indian defense ministry.
Meanwhile, India’s Ministry of Defense recently floated a notification inviting a response from indigenous manufacturers for the procurement of Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAVs for use by three defense services. The Ministry of Defense recently invited responses from local manufacturers for the procurement of MALE UAVs. The notification says, “This will be under the ‘Make in India’ initiative from Indian companies. The project would be based on proven or matured technologies where fundamental research is not required.”
Describing the operational requirements of UAVs, the Ministry says, “Altitude ceiling should be around 30,000 ft or above, with endurance that should be more than 25 hrs. The maximum range should be more than 250 kms.”
Looking at the operational requirements and capability of Rustom II, if successful, Rustom II can easily fulfill this requirement of India’s defense forces. India plans to procure more than 5,000 UAVs in next 10 years. Countries including France, Israel and the US are eyeing major purchases.
Air Marshal Chopra says, “We are hoping big from Rustom II because if we do not succeed in these basic systems, then for us to succeed in ‘Make in India’ in aviation, will be a big thing. So, we have to succeed in Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and Rustom. From Rustom, we will proceed towards the launch of many other UAVs including our own AURA (Advanced Unmanned Reconnaissance Aircraft) and things like that. We have lot of big plans ahead, but it is very important that Rustom succeeds.”