Defence undertaking on the lookout for partners who can co-develop tech

After successfully readying the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), or Tejas, for production, the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) has taken up more ambitious projects in the aeronautical sector.

The Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which would be India’s next indigenous fighter aircraft, and unmanned combat aerial vehicles are among some of the major aeronautical missions embarked on by the DRDO.

Inaugurating a seminar in connection with the 12th edition of Aero India 2019 in Bangalore early this week, DRDO Chairman G Satheesh Reddy said the defence research body, which employs over 7,500 scientists, is scouting for potential partners, who can help it co-develop various future technologies, including a more powerful Aero-engine for AMCA.

“An Aero-engine of the 110-kilo Newton (kN) type that we want for AMCA is not available today,” Reddy was quoted as saying.

As per the proposed plan, the fifth generation fighter aircraft will initially fly with two GE-414 engines, which has 98 kN thrust. The first test flight of the aircraft is expected in 2032. In comparison, LCA, which is a four-plus generation fighter plane, uses a GE-404 engine that has a thrust of 84 kN.

The AMCA will be built on technologies developed for the LCA, but would have more futuristic technologies.

Participating in the Indian Science Congress held in Jalandhar in January, Samir V Kamat, Director General (Naval Systems & Materials) at DRDO, said the kind of materials required for making futuristic defence systems are quite different from what are available today.

“In the next 15-20 years, the metallic systems which currently account for 80 to 90 per cent of materials used in the defence system will go down to 30 to 40 per cent,” said Kamat.

For instance, materials like titanium alloys or aluminium alloys or carbon fibre reinforced plastics used in the aircraft have a weight-to-strength ratio of 1 and specific modulus — a measure of elasticity — in the range of 20 to 50. But new nano materials such as carbon nano tubes and graphene offer the possibility of improving both these parameters by around 100-fold.

“Currently, we are able to make carbon nano tubes, but the challenges of spinning them into continuous fibres which are long enough have not been overcome yet. But this will be done in the next 15-20 years, offering enormous possibilities,” he said.

Developing new materials and manufacturing them in ample quantities at low cost and in environmentally sustainable manner are some of the major challenges faced by defence technology experts all over the world.

Similarly, the cycle of designing and developing new materials has to shrink drastically in the near future to make them available for use in the defence systems.

Currently, the time taken to design and develop a new material used in the defence sector is around 15 to 20 years. It has to come down to 6-7 years, Kamat said.

Apart from the AMCA, the DRDO has been working on a number of UAVs, including those that can be used for combat applications, apart from reconnaissance.

In collaboration with domestic players, the DRDO has been developing different variants of UAVs.

Immersive Experience

In Aero 2019, the DRDO is participating in a big way. According to official sources, it has showcased as many as 250 systems, technologies, working models and innovations. Around 24 laboratories under different technology clusters of the DRDO connected to the aerospace and aeronautics are displaying their products and showcasing their achievements.

These participating clusters are: Aeronautical Systems, Missiles, Armaments & Combat Engineering, Electronics & Communication Systems, Micro electronics Devices & Computational Systems, Naval Systems & Materials and Life sciences.

For instance, in the Indoor Pavilion, scaled models of LCA-Tejas variants viz., Air Force Mark-1, Medium Weight Fighter, Naval Variants and Trainer variants are displayed.

In addition, a scaled model of the twin engine stealth aircraft is being displayed with audio-visual effect.

DRDO is also showcasing proven expertise in the field of fighter aircraft simulators design and development through 360 degree immersive virtual experience kiosks.