In what would break new ground, India has started work on developing an unmanned combat version of the home-grown light combat aircraft (LCA), with a task group being constituted to study how to convert the fighter for a futuristic role.
A team has already started work on the project to convert the LCA into a drone and India’s premier aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is confident that the project can be carried out within a short time frame.
“We have started an internal study on making a unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) on the Tejas platform. Besides, we are confident on coming up with an unmanned version of Chetak helicopter as well,” HAL Chief T Suvarna Raju told ET.
The Air Force has already placed orders for 123 LCA fighters and HAL is targeting a gap of 200 fighters that the Air Force will face in coming years.
An unmanned version of the LCA could be used for cross-border strikes — missions that place a high risk on pilots in case of a ditching in enemy territory. India is also working on a project named AURA to make a futuristic combat drone that would be powered by a modified version of the Kaveri engine.
The drone, however, is several years away as the project is still at the design stage. While unmanned LCA would be no match for a futuristic stealth drone, officials pointed that out converting a flying platform into an autonomous unit could be faster and cheaper short term option.
The US, for example, uses unmanned F-16 fighters for aerial target practice.