Rustom-I Armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
RUSTOM-1 is a prop driven all composite, 800 kg class Short Range Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (SR-RPAS) having capabilities of Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, Target Acquisition/ Tracking and Image Exploitation. Rustom-1 is the first Indian RPAS to have conventional take-off and landing capability. It has autonomous flight mode and Get-To-Home features. Rustom-1 RPAS has completed 65 flights and demonstrated flight endurance of 10 hrs, range of 200-250 km and an altitude of 20,000-26,000 ft. Up-gradation of SR-RPAS with Automatic Take-off & Landing (ATOL), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Store carrying capability is achievable.
The Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) was sanctioned in February 2011 at a cost of Rs.1540.74 crore. Rustom could replace/supplement the Heron UAVs in service with the Indian armed forces. Rustom 1 will carry out surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles for the armed forces, with different combinations of payloads. Nonetheless, according to DRDO they have integrated the locally developed anti-tank missile HELINA with the Rustom 1. News18 had even released a picture of a Rustom-1 carrying 2 Helina missiles during taxi trails. Whether those missiles were fired or not was not explained.
Indian developers have been working with Israel Aerospace Industries to develop three UAVs, the Rustom [warrior] MALE and the short-range Pawan and Gagan. The Rustom can fly at an altitude of 9000 metres or more for up to 24 hours. Its natural surveillance range of 250 km is extendable beyond 1000 km, given that it is capable of using satellite links to transmit data.
In March 2016 Indian defense forces finalized a blueprint to procure more than 5,000 UAVs over the next 10 years for about US $3 billion, and tenders will be restricted to domestic companies that can tie up with foreign firms. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing a variety of UAVs for the services, including Navy projects such as 10 MALE Rustoms at a cost of $225 million, while the Army is procuring three Rustom UCAVs and one ground station at a cost of $60 million and 12 more in the future; 10 Rustom2 UCAVs for $342.3 million, and the Air Force is acquiring three Rustom UCAVs and one ground station at a cost of $60 million.
Having cost some USD 100 million in research and development, an improved version of the Rustom-II (Tapas) – a medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), was ready to take to the skies in early 2020.
The success of the maiden test flight of its Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV Rustom-1 on 16 October 2010 was ADE’s achievement. It flew for 12 minutes after taking off despite inclement weather and landed successfully meeting all its objectives. Rustom-1 is an indigenous, all-weather UAV and is designed to operate at medium to long ranges and gather near real time, high quality imagery and signals intelligence from areas of interest. Rustom-1 is the first UAV to have conventional take-off and landing capability in India. Subsequently, five successful flights have taken place, two in May 2011 and three in November 2011. R1-3 aircraft with Electro-optic payload is being tested for flight. Latest reports indicate that development trials have been completed. The system originally planned to be developed, demonstrate and master certain key technologies required for such class of UAV was ready to be used as a product.
Rustom-1 is designed with a 75 kg payload. The data link for this aircraft has been developed by DEAL, another DRDO laboratory and the airframe has been built by Zephyr Aerospace, Coimbatore. Subsequent flights will test and demonstrate other capabilities such as way point navigation, altitude and endurance parameters, the systems for which have been already incorporated in the aircraft.
India's ambitious unmanned aerial vehicle UAV program received a major boost when the second flight of the Rustom-1 technology demonstrator UAV was conducted successfully in Bangalore on 8 October 2010. This followed a failed test in November 2009 when faulty operation of the UAV demonstrator had resulted in a crash. Both the tests were conducted at the Taneja Aerospace facility at Hosur near Bangalore. The flight of the second Rustom-1 prototype lasted 30 minutes.
Rustom-1's basic design is derived from the NAL light canard research aircraft (LCRA). The Rustom-1 is a technology feeder program for the proposed Rustom-H medium altitude long endurance MALE UAV which had yet to fly. According to the Defence Research and Development Organisation DRDO, the Rustom-1 was a forerunner of the more advanced Rustom-II and an unmanned combat aerial vehicle UCAV.
The Indian government has allowed the development of the Rustom MALE UAV project in association with a production agency cum development partner (PADP). The ADE officials indicated that the requests for proposals (RFP) would shortly be issued to four vendors which are the Tatas, Larsen and Toubro, Godrej and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited–Bharat Electronics (joint bid) who were chosen out of the 23 firms that responded.
The Indian Navy (IN) could well become the first customer of the Rustom-I. In recent months the Rustom-I's maritime recon capabilities have been demonstrated to the IN off the coast of Tamil Nadu. Rustom-I, given its size is far more difficult for targets like illegal fishing trawlers to spot than manned aircraft which usually carry out coastal surveillance duties. Moreover Rustom-I flights are likely to prove cheaper as well.
Ever since a weaponized Chinese CH-3 Drone crashed in Nigeria and Pakistan unveiled an 'indigenous' version of the same drone called Burraq, there is a newfound urgency in India to develop armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Some believe that India does not have a pressing need for armed drones as the country is not fighting any adversary in permissive airspace: the Indian Air Force primarily wants to keep an eye on the movement near the border with China and Pakistan while operating its drones from Indian Air Space. "My understanding is that India does not have a pressing need for armed drones, which are optimized for operations in permissive airspace. India is not fighting any adversary in permissive airspace. Both Chinese and Pakistan airspace is heavily contested. The IAF's interest in the MQ-9B and the Indian Navy's interest in the Heron TP stem from their excellent surveillance capabilities. The IAF wants to look deep into China and Pakistan while operating within the safety of Indian airspace," Vijainder K Thakur, former squadron leader of Indian Air Force said in October 2017.
Addressing the media on Air Force Day in the first week of October 2020, Indian Air Force Chief R.K.S. Bhadauria emphasised that drones are an important part for surveillance and intelligence gathering. “However, once the conflict starts, they do become susceptible to enemy action, which is a known fact”, the air chief marshal added. “There will always be limitations when drones are used to attack in the way they have been used in this (Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict). Some will fall to enemy action and a percentage will succeed. One should have a combination of such assets…(but) we cannot plan to win a war with just these”, the air chief said.
But Indian security forces exchanging fire with terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir highlight the need for higher automation in activities like Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) especially for a real-time tactical operation. Aerial systems like UAVs or drones are known to be most cost effective solutions and have potent lethality, when weaponized.
As it is a single engine system which did not have the endurance or payload that would meet the DRDO requirements, it was only used to develop technologies and subsystems. During the long project development phase, DRDO planned various up-gradations like Automatic Take-off & Landing (ATOL), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Store carrying capability. However, the Rustom-1 service, and the knowledge and learnings gained could only be translated to consequent UAV projects and was not inducted by the Services.