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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Made in India

   by:  Col AK Sharma (Retd)


Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and their derivatives like drones shot into prominence recently during the conflict in AfPak region. In service for a while now, these unmanned aerial platforms have proven to be the most sought after surveillance devices that a field commander desires to use to gain immediate information about his adversary in the battlefield. Capable of peeping inside enemy lines, undetected and at all times during the day and night, UAVs perform a stellar role in quick decision making and planning reactions as per enemy dispositions.

Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), one of DRDO’s premier laboratories based in Bangaluru, is designing and developing UAVs for the Indian armed forces. Aerial target vehicle LAKSHYA and UAV NISHANT are already in use and many other variants, which essentially are upgrades and improvements of the existing models are in the pipeline. South Asia Defence & Strategic Review was fortunate to be granted permission to visit the facility and learn more about the indigenous UAVs. To our pleasant surprise, we discovered that the establishment is engaged in the full spectrum of design and development activities associated with aeronautical engineering.
Dr PS Krishnan, Outstanding Scientist & Director, Aeronautical Development Establishment, welcomed us to the facility which boasts of numerous achievements since inception in 1959. The repertoire is large with many of the products already in service and many more at the design and development stage getting ready to take wings. With eminent scientists like Dr VS Chandrashekhar, Group Director and Dr G Sivasankaran, Project Director NISHANT, and many such distinguished leaders haeding each project, the ADE team is dedicated and strong, determined to carry forward the legacy inherited from illustrious predecessors.

Dr Krishnan gave an overview of the diverse research development activities that are currently on at the premises and in collaboration with other sister laboratories. One of the new projects is Micro Air Vehicle which is a hand launched fixed wing mini UAV being developed in collaboration with HAL. It has three different configurations and is fitted with a CCD TV Camera (day) to enhance soldiers’ situational awareness.

SUDARSHAN, a laser guided bomb, incorporates an Advanced Laser Guidance Kit developed by ADE for 1000 lb bombs to improve accuracy of the conventional bomb. Add on kits for guidance (beam riding) and accurate flight path have been fitted at the front and rear ends of the bomb. Successful trials have been conducted and SUDARSHAN is expected to rival ‘Paveway2’ in performance. Successful flight tests conducted earlier this year have given ADE the confidence to strive for higher levels of accuracy.

Dr Krishnan also spoke briefly about the pilotless target vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles and the futuristic UAVs currently under development. Mark 2 variant of LAKSHYA will be ready for induction this year, while NISHANT is receiving repeat orders as some of the performance parameters are superior to its highly acclaimed contemporaries like the Searcher. UAV RUSTOM, initially taken up as a technology demonstrator is at an advanced stage of development with 12-15 hours of endurance. Its next variant with planned endurance of 24 hours and payload capacity of 350 kgs, too, has been designed and awaits approval of the CCS.
Briefing us about the LCA and its ‘fly by wire’ system, Dr Krishnan tells us how the establishment has acquired and developed capabilities in designing complex systems and sub-systems involved in making a fighter aircraft. Starting with GE (USA) to begin with, ADE today has developed its own technologies flight control systems, avionics and digital flight computer (to name a few),  rivalling the best in the world. The dome simulator of the LCA developed by ADE is a technological marvel and has the facility to incorporate and evaluate changes in the aircraft through simulation.

R Krishnan also explained the core technologies that ADE is currently working on. These include high speed unmanned systems, aerodynamics simulation, mission sensors and complete technology related to flight controls and system integration.

Brief History

Established in 1959 under Defence R & D Organisation, Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) is a frontline laboratory in the field of aeronautical design and development solutions. The thrust areas of R&D here include unmanned air vehicles’ design and development, flight control system (FCS) development and flight simulation. ADE has grown into a system house keeping abreast with the state-of-the-art technologies for the development of Pilotless Target Aircraft, Unmanned Reconnaissance and Surveillance Air Vehicles, FCS development for modern combat aircraft and advanced engineering and training simulators for manned and unmanned aircrafts. Till date, ADE has been and is engaged in the development of twelve different unmanned aerial vehicle systems, some of which are missile Target-ULKA, Pilotless Target Aircraft-LAKSHYA, Technology Demonstrator for low speed RPV-SPARROW, low speed reconnaissance and remotely piloted vehicle-NISHANT, Technology demonstrator for MALE UAV-RUSTOM 1, MALE UAV-RUSTOM H, and controlled aerial delivery system-CADS, Laser guided bomb-SUDARSHAN and Micro Air Vehicle.

Thrust Areas of ADE

• Design and development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

• Design and Development of Systems for combat Aircraft

• Flight Simulation

• Air Weapons


LAKSHYA is a surface/ship launched high subsonic reusable aerial target system, which provides a realistic simulation of enemy aircraft threat to artillery crews for training in firing of air to air and surface to air weapons. Zero length launcher and parachute based recovery system allows LAKSHYA to be launched from land or ship and be recovered safely on land or sea. Ground control station and telemetry station allows pilotless control of aircraft and real time data acquisition. It is boosted from a simple zero length launcher by a solid propellant rocket motor, and sustained by a turbojet engine in flight. It carries two bodies with a tow length of 1.5 kms each: having radar, IR and visual signature augmentation. These tow bodies are used as targets for training land or ship based missiles or gun crews in weapon engagement. The LAKSHYA is recovered by a parachute system either over sea or land. Under a limited series production programme, ADE has delivered 3 LAKSHYA Air Vehicles Squadrons and 3 sets of grand equipments to Airforce, Navy and Army. Till now, more than 200 LAKSHYA launches have been carried out by ADE and the user services. LAKSHYA has been successfully deployed to evaluate indigenous and imported missile systems.

NISHANT-Battle Field Surveillance UAV

NISHANT is an all composite, low speed battle field Surveillance UAV conceived and designed with mobility as an important requirement. The UAV is launched using a Hydro Pneumatic Launcher and recovered with Aero Conical Parachute and impact attenuation system. The high degree of automation built into the system reduces piloting skill requirements to a minimum during critical phases of launch and recovery. Target Acquisition and tracking is done by electro optic payloads (CCTV & FLIR), mounted on a stabilized steerable platform. A sophisticated image processing system is used for analyzing the images obtained by the electro-optic image sensors. An onboard integrated digital flight management system is used for flight control and autonomous navigation of the UAV. NISHANT user trials have been successfully completed and the UAV is in production. Payloads like Low Light Level TV Camera, ELINT, COMINT, LD and LRF can also be fitted on this UAV platform.

The initial development efforts have helped DRDO to build up UAV related technology base in the areas of propulsion system integration, launch and recovery, flight control and navigation, communication, payload development and operation, ground control station, image processing and UAV simulation.

Precision Stabilized Electro-Optic (EO) Payload System

ADE has developed precision stabilized Electro-Optic (EO) Payload System development under the project titled ‘Reconnaissance and Surveillance System for Manned & Unmanned Aircraft’. The System comprises of a precision 2-axes-4-gimbal stabilized payload assembly (GPA Mk-IV), which houses two Electro-Optic Payloads to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions during day and night. The EO Payloads include a daylight TV camera with appropriate zoom optics for daytime operation and a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) System operating in 3-5 um MWIR region capable of imaging targets during day/night/adverse weather conditions. The main aim of the gimbal assembly is to direct/orient the EO payload line-of-sight (LOS) in any direction within the lower hemisphere irrespective of the flight direction of the air vehicle. Additionally, gimbal assembly stabilizes the payload LOS against aircraft jitter and vibrations. The stabilization accuracy of the Gimbal Payloads Assembly is better than 30uRad, which ensures detection of tank sized targets at a range in excess 17 km and recognition at range of 6 km.


DRDO has drawn up a road map for the development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for the three Services following a series of interactions with the armed forces. It has identified a long-term need for developing an indigenous Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV called RUSTOM-H. The MALE UAV is required to operate at medium to long ranges and gather near real time, high quality imagery (IMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) from areas of interest. ADE has taken up a technology initiative project – RUSTOM 1, to develop critical technologies for MALE UAV.

RUSTOM 1: Technology Initiative for MALE UAV

       .     Conventional Take off & Landing

• Service Ceiling  : 25000 ft

• Endurance  : 12 – 15 hrs

• Cruise Speed  : 150 Km/hr

• Range   : 250 Kms

• Payload  : 75 Kg (Electro – Optics)

• Wing span  : 7.9 m & Length : 5.1 m

• All up weight  : 750 Kg

RUSTOM-H is a medium altitude long endurance UAV with mission capability, proposed to be developed indigenously for the armed forces. The technical challenge lies in the design and development of light weight airframe and systems that operate reliably for long durations.

The range of advanced technologies and systems that will be developed include the following:-

• Aerodynamic configurations, High aspect ratio wing, Composite airframe integrated with propulsion system, De-icing system for wings

• Highly reliable systems with built-in redundancy for flight critical systems like flight control and navigation, data links, power management, - and mission critical payload management system

• Digital Flight Control and Navigation System, Automatic Take off and Landing (ATOL)

• Digital communication technologies for realizing data links to control and operate the mission and relay UAVs

       .     Payloads with high resolution and precision stabilized platforms.


• Conventional Take off and Landing

• Service Ceiling : 35000 ft

• Endurance : >24hrs

• Cruise Speed : 150 Km / hr

• Range : up to 250 Kms

• Payloads : 350 Kg (Electro – Optics, RWR, IFF, SAR, MPR, ELINT, COMMINT)

• Wing span : 20.6 m

• Length : 9.5 m

• All up weight : 1800 Kg

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