BANGALORE: In line with the Centre’s Atmanirbhar (self-reliant) initiative and the need for modernisation of the armed forces, India’s premier defence research agency is confident of achieving milestones in three key projects this year.

The 5.5-generation twin fin, twin engine stealth aircraft — Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) — program is expected to get formal approval in the early part of the second half this year. That the IAF also appears to be interested in the program may finally see it get fast-tracked.

AMCA development has entered the crucial phase of a detailed data-generation process for making prototypes. The Centre gave the sanction for the design phase, with an allocation of more than Rs 400 crore, in December 2018 and if all goes as per plan, the first flight of AMCA is expected in 2025.

On when the prototype roll-out can be expected, Reddy said: “We’ll be able to say six months later once we have the formal approval for the project, which is expected this year.”

According to DRDO, the multi-role aircraft with precision strike capabilities will be able to fight BVR (beyond visual range) and accommodate future missiles in its arsenal. Sources said it will be designed to operate in both unmanned and manned roles.

The aircraft will have multiple modern features: Stealth, pilot-vehicle interface, sensor data fusion, passive sensors, AESA Radar, electronic warfare suite, decision aids, network-centric warfare, low emission, 360° enhanced situation awareness, etc.

Chief of air staff air chief marshal RKS Bhadauria also indicated during the recently concluded Aero India that the IAF is keen on AMCA. In fact, in the prevision edition of the show, when he was heading the training command, Bhadauria had said AMCA would be IAF’s first choice for a fifth-gen fighter.

While DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) will be designing AMCA, the aircraft will be produced jointly with HAL and a private player with plans afoot for an SPV. There will also be involvement of other government-run agencies under MoD and DRDO.

A senior official from the AMCA project team in HAL said: “At the moment it will be only ADA and HAL. There are talks of a private player, but there’s nothing final on it as yet.” Another official added that the parts fabrication for AMCA will happen at the PSU’s Nashik plant but prototype integration and other developments will happen in Bengaluru, along with CABS (centre for airborne systems).

Further, source said that the IAF, learning from the TEJAS program, has decided to get involved right from the beginning so as to ensure the aircraft meets its requirements at every stage and that the project is not delayed.

Laser Weapons & Drone Swarm

Also, the defence research and development organisation (DRDO) is confident of demonstrating drone swarm technology and high power energy (laser) weapons pegged to give India an arsenal a la Star Wars. There were earlier reports about India’s plans for high-energy based weapons.

DRDO chairman G Sateesh Reddy told TOI: “The anti-drone system today is completely laser based and we’ve demonstrated that. We’re developing higher power lasers, naturally the range of kill gets enlarged and we can also engage some other kinds of targets too. We should be able to demonstrate this this year.”

DRDO is looking at — no formal mechanism of working with the armed forces as on date — land, ships and air-borne laser weapons in the future. “There can be multiple applications, but the demonstration will be ground-based. These can become border-based weapons,” Reddy said, adding that DRDO would also be able to demonstrate drone swarm technology without elaborating further.

While the armed forces are keen on both these technologies, they will take time to mature before DRDO can offer it for testing. This means it may take more than a decade at least for armed forces to actively consider it for induction.