Rustom-2 (TAPAS-BH-201) a Medium Altitude Long Endurance unmanned air vehicle (UAV) capable of carrying different combination of payloads including synthetic aperture radar, electronic intelligence systems and situational awareness systems. The UAV has an endurance of 24 hours and at present is capable of reaching altitude of 23000'.The future of this project will decide the technological future of indigenous UAV development in the country

Overcoming the initial program setbacks, the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) on Friday flight tested the Rustom-2 medium altitude long endurance indigenous prototype drone and achieved eight hours of flying at an altitude of 16,000 feet at Chitradurga, Karnataka. The prototype is expected to achieve a height of 26,000 feet and endurance of 18 hours by 2020 end.

Rustom-2 is capable of carrying different combinations of payloads depending on the mission objectives including synthetic aperture radar, electronic intelligence systems and situational awareness systems. It has a satellite communication link to relay situation in the battle theatre on real time basis. “ The Rustom-2 had one hour of fuel left after eight hours of test flying at Challakere aeronautical test range in Chitradurga district of Karnataka and had achieved the test flight ceiling,” said a senior official. The flight proved the functioning of a number of systems such as aerodynamics, redundant flight control, engine and datalink, which go a long way towards the development of a complex UAV. The UAV is powered by twin NPO-Saturn 36MT wing-mounted turboprop engines, developing 73.55 kW (~100 hp) each.

"The American RQ-1 Predator is an obvious template for the Rustom program. We’ve built a credible unmanned flying platform. The way the Americans converted a robust surveillance drone into a combat drone is something we are confident we can replicate for the Rustom-H variant. It will have a great deal of mission flexibility. Work is underway to define the weaponisation process.", ADE Director stated.

The Rustom-2 is being developed as a long endurance surveillance platform capable of deploying precision weapons. With a wingspan of more than 20m and an endurance of 24–30 hours, the UCAV needs a runway to take-off and land unlike traditional UAVs, which makes it more trustworthy.

The drone can loiter autonomously at high altitudes performing real-time, high-resolution intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) with its SAR and EO sensors. When a target is identified, it will either illuminate the target with a laser designator for other strike aircraft, or descend to lower altitude and attack the target with its own air-to-surface missiles.

The advanced version of Rustom-2 will include greater endurance of 3000 km and service ceiling of 50000 ft, in addition to the weapons ability to deploy a wider variety of weapons, and payload of 3000 kg. 

While the DRDO expects Rustom-2 surveillance drone to match the specifications of the Israeli Heron unmanned aerial vehicle used by the Indian Air Force and Navy, it has revitalized its drone program with a new mission head and objectives. The push to Rustom-2 program was given after the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tried to occupy Indian territory in Ladakh on the basis of a 1959 cartographical claim on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The PLA has Wing Loong-II armed drones in its arsenal and has even given four of them to Pakistan to protect the CPEC corridor and Gwadar port.

Although the Rustom-2 will have to undergo test and user trials before inducted in the Indian military, the Ministry of Defence is currently negotiating with Israeli Aerospace Industry (IAI) to not only upgrade the existing fleet of Heron drone but also arm them with air to surface missile and laser guided bombs.

The Indian Army, IAF, Navy and Coast Guard have all expressed strong interest in the Rustom-2, though firm orders will be cleared only after advanced flight testing.

Besides, India has also decided to go in for American MQ-9B armed drone instead of Sea Guardian surveillance drone with cost and numbers being worked out. Clearly, the future belongs to stand-off weapons and India this time will not miss the bus. India has also embarked on the upgrade of Heron UAV involving installing a satellite communication link so that there is no time gap in relaying situation on ground as well as installing hard points on the wings for missiles and laser guided bombs.