With 53 flights across six airframes at a sprawling 2,600 acre aviation test facility in Chitradurga test facility about 200 km from Bangalore , India’s high performance Rustom-2 drone, designed to remain in the air for up to 24 hours, will be officially handed over to the Indian Air Force, Navy and Army this October for a crucial six month user trial phase that will stretch till March 2020 reports LiveFist.

Specifically developed for medium altitude lone endurance (MALE) flight, the Predator-sized drone is being developed in two specific variants — a standard surveillance model sporting an Electro-optical payload with synthetic aperture radar for the Army and IAF requirement, and a naval variant that comes fitted with a maritime patrol radar.

The Indian armed forces currently operate the Israeli IAI Heron for long endurance drone duties both over land and sea, and has recently contracted for more, including an armed version. The Rustom-2 will mirror the Heron’s capabilities in many ways — while Indian sensor systems are under trial, the test airframes of the Rustom-2 all use Israeli Electro-optical systems for the development phase. These will be progressively replaced with Indian systems when ready.

The Rustom-2 is currently capable of operations up to 300 km away from its control centre with UHF and C-band links, and much longer away with SATCOM, still under test. Data links have proven — and will prove — to be the greatest challenge facing the Rustom-2 program in the journey to opening up its full stated potential. The user trials will involve rigorous testing of the drone’s long range autonomous flight over land and sea. The drone has so far had flights with a maximum endurance of 16 hours, though this was only owing to test requirements — the 24 hours endurance parameter is a given.