Bangalore: The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), India’s defence research agency, plans to partner with the private sector to design, develop and produce an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for the country’s armed forces. The organization does not usually partner with private firms.
DRDO is in talks with several companies such as Larsen & Toubro Ltd, Godrej and Boyce Ltd, the Tata group and state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), India’s defence aircraft maker, to design and develop the MALE (short for medium altitude long endurance) UAV in five years.
Lakshya, one of India’s two homegrown unmanned aerial vehicles, on display at a Republic Day parade in New Delhi
“This is a first for us. We will develop a process to identify partners, share knowledge and build the birds (UAVs) within a time line,” Dipankar Banerjee, DRDO’s chief controller (research and development) for aeronautics and material sciences, said.
The defence research agency anticipates an industry partner will find it viable to work on the project considering that the armed forces need around 80 MALE drones.
The private partner would make the majority of the Rs500-700 crore investments in the design and development of the drone, Banerjee said.
The agency expects the drone to be built and subjected to trials in around five years once the project begins. DRDO would share knowledge of unmanned aerial vehicles, electronics, ground systems and sensors it has gained over the years. “The learning curve for the industry (to produce the aircraft) will be shorter if they are in it from the start,” said Banerjee.
India has two homegrown UAVs—Lakshya, the pilotless target aircraft, and Nishant, a reconnaissance and electronic surveillance drone, designed and built by DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Establishment in Bangalore, which focuses on unmanned aerial vehicle systems.
Both the projects have been hit by delays, similar to other DRDO projects such as the Light Combat Aircraft and the Arjun Main Battle Tank.
Analysts say that partnership of DRDO with industry from the design stage would help companies absorb technology faster and give a thrust to defence research in the private sector.
“UAVs are the future for any country. The partnership should ensure that the final product is cost effective and build products in a shorter time,” said A.K. Saxena, former managing director of HAL.
DRDO is also talking to private companies to partner in the homegrown Airborne Early Warning System project, being developed at the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) in Bangalore.
CABS will build a radar system on an imported Embraer executive jet, and the incentive for companies is the long-term contract for system maintenance and upgradation in the project, said Banerjee.