On Friday, India launched its first test flight of its unmanned “autonomous flying wing technology demonstrator” drone, called stealth wing flying testbed (SWiFT). The test marks a major new aerospace development for India’s military, paving the way for a new chapter in stealth technologies and drone design and development in the country.
The test flight took place at the aeronautical test range based at Chitradurga in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
The SWiFT is a scaled-down version of the upcoming Ghatak combat drone. Its first flight signaled the DRDO’s readiness to begin serious engineering development to materialize the long-awaited Ghatak Drone, which has been in talks for years.
The aircraft was launched by Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) — the lead aeronautical research wing of the state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The drone’s entire state-of-the-art technology — including airframe, undercarriage, and advanced flight control and avionics systems — was domestically developed by ADE.
The SWiFT platform is one tonne in standard weight of its TD form and is powered by a Russian NPO Saturn 36MT turbofan engine. The basic core element of autonomous aircraft is designed under a flying wing configuration similar to the french Dassault Neuron or American RQ-170 Sentinel.
The Defence Ministry announced the successful flight test with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh deeming it a major achievement toward autonomous aircraft that will pave the way for Aatmanirbhar Bharat, an economic initiative meant to make India less dependent on foreign technology and complete self-reliance in terms of critical military systems.
ADE officials said the test was to access the fundamental functionalities and was conducted to demonstrate its ability to take off, climb in altitude, cruise mid-air, navigate to waypoints, and descend and land autonomously. The flight demonstration was declared successful when the testbed achieved all intended parameters.
The platform had completed taxi trials in September 2021, and with its successfully completed first flight trial, the development of Ghatak is now closer to reality.
The next step is to develop a proven autonomous combat surveillance platform which will be part of phase two of the further design and engineering process to enable the full-fledged combat drone to carry weapons and conduct stealth operations as intended.
ADE will now conduct an advanced study of the test flight data to examine the aircraft’s configuration, autonomous takeoff and landing technology, retractable landing gear system, and low radar signature. ADE is focused on improving the stealth design since this effort is meant to be the foundation of future modifications to the platform until the government grants full funding to develop the final aircraft variant.