"This is one project in which the private industry will be brought into the picture from the very start," said a senior official, who did not wish to be identified. "Very high-end technology is required for the UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) and several industry houses in India are capable of developing and absorbing this technology," he said.
The Indian UCAV project is tentatively called Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft (AURA). The target is to get the system operational within eight years once the funds are cleared by the government, officials said. The original Kaveri project was meant to power the light combat aircraft but it got shelved as the engine could not deliver sufficient thrust for the fighter aircraft. In its revived avatar, the engine will be modified and its afterburners will be removed to power the first Indian UCAV.
While a similar plan was mooted by the state-run Defence Research & Development Organisation ( DRDO) during the term of the previous United Progressive Alliance government, the body had pegged the project cost at close to Rs 800 crore at the time.
However, the then government did not clear funds for the project. The main challenge in getting AURA operational, according to experts, is its central theme of stealth. The drone is being designed to be invisible to radars with its radical 'flying wing design'. The absence of a 'tail' to guide and manoeuvre the drone will require advanced programming and a cutting edge flight control system to keep it in the air. Besides AURA, India is currently working on at least one more futuristic combat aircraft programme — the Advanced Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, or AMCA, aimed at developing a manned fighter jet.