Rustom-2, India’s long endurance Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) has finally completed its first flight early on November 15 in Challakere, about 200 km from Bengaluru.
Once inducted, this indigenous medium altitude long endurance (MALE) multirole drone is likely to be an asset for Indian armed forces for its surveillance capability as well as for its use as an unmanned armed combat vehicle.
Powered by twin NPO-Saturn 36MT turboprop engines, the Rustom-II is being developed as a long endurance surveillance platform capable of deploying precision weapons.
With a wingspan of more than 20m and an endurance of 24-30 hours, the UCAV needs a runway to takeoff and land unlike traditional UAVs, which makes it more trustworthy.
The drone can loiter autonomously at high altitudes performing real-time, high-resolution intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) with its SAR and EO sensors. When a target is identified, it will either illuminate the target with a laser designator for other strike aircraft, or descend to lower altitude and attack the target with its own air-to-surface missiles.
In contrast to Rustom-I, the next generation version is equipped with enhanced aerodynamic configuration, digital flight control, navigation system, communication intelligence, medium and long-range electro-optic payloads and synthetic aperture radar that will enable it to see through the clouds.
The capability of automatic takeoff and landing makes it comparable to some of the best in the world.
Once fully ready, the Rustom UAVs will replace Israeli Heron unmanned aerial vehicles being used by the air force and the navy.
The team developing the Rustom-2 has faced weight reduction and systems issues, resulting in delay in its debut flight by over two years. It will now undergo through a rigorous phase of flight trials.
The advanced version of Rustom-II will include greater endurance and service ceiling, in addition to the ability to deploy a wider variety of weapons. The Indian Army, IAF, Navy and Coast Guard have all expressed strong interest in the Rustom-II, though firm orders will clearly only land during advanced flight testing.