DRDO weighs unmanned rotorcraft development
By SP's Special Correspondent
Photo Credit : IAI-HAL

March 04, 2013: Despite deep interest in unmanned rotorcraft for several different kinds of operations—from maritime operations off a ship's deck to urban surveillance to anti-naxal operations—India doesn't operate a single one. Keeping in view the requirement and the fact that at least two efforts to procure unmanned rotorcraft from abroad are still in progress, the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) in Bangalore has decided to try its hand at it. ADE associate Director P. Srikumar recently revealed that the establishment had factored in an unmanned rotorcraft in its overall roadmap, and would likely field a system in the 2015-17 time frame.

The IAI-HAL naval rotory UAV (NRUAV, see photo), based on the Chetak airframe, has failed to prove itself as an operational platform, and has faced several problems pertaining to autopilot and stability, only accentuating the challenges posed by an unmanned rotorcraft, even for a country like Israel, that's relatively experienced in the development of unmanned air systems. While the DRDO effort is still only in the proposal stages, it is unclear right now what the scale of the effort will be. For instance, will the DRDO be attempting to build an all new rotorcraft platform, or modify an existing helicopter platform? The DRDO has been known to be in discussions about a possible optionally manned modication for the HAL Dhruv. Or will the new platform be a miniaturised platform like the Schiebel Camcopter or SAAB Skeldar. Also, the avionics and flight control systems on an unmanned rotorcraft are diametrically different to those on fixed-wing platforms, that still haven't been perfected yet on Indian UAVs like the Nishant and Rustom, so it remains to be seen how the effort progresses, and whether it receives requisite support from within the potential customer services.