The existence of a UCAV project was first revealed over a decade ago

Over the past week, social media handles following Indian defence developments have been abuzz after footage emerged of a UAV developed by the DRDO.

Twitter users shared images and video of the Stealth Wing Flying Testbed (SWiFT), a UAV developed by the DRDO's Aeronautical Development Establishment. The SWiFT is being developed as a technology demonstrator for the DRDO's secretive programme to create an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). The images and video showed the aircraft conducting taxi trials, a precursor to flight tests.

To a layperson, the SWiFT resembles the US B-2 stealth bomber in layout as both having a 'flying wing' configuration. The flying wing configuration allows an aircraft to carry more fuel and weapons and also reduces its radar cross-section as the design has no definite fuselage. However, flying wing designs typically have more complicated flight control systems. Various reports estimated the SWiFT has a weight of about 1 ton and is powered by a small turbofan engine from Russia. Ground trials of the SWiFT were reported to have begun around June this year.

DRDO had previously indicated that SWiFT was a project to demonstrate technologies for controlling the flying wing configuration and flight characteristics at high-subsonic speed.

Earlier this year, it was reported that a go-ahead from the cabinet for full-scale development of the UCAV was expected later this year, based on the success of the SWiFT.

The existence of a UCAV project was first revealed over a decade ago, with the project being known by various names such as AURA (autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle) and Ghatak.

Reports in recent years have claimed the DRDO UCAV could fly by 2025. The final UCAV design is expected to be several times larger in size than the SWiFT and would be powered by an engine derived from the Kaveri power-plant that was meant for the Tejas fighter.

A jet-powered, stealthy UAV would provide several advantages over existing drones that can carry weapons. This includes having higher speed and capacity to carry more weapons and advanced sensors, thanks to a more powerful engine and lesser probability of detection as payloads are carried internally.

This would make such a UCAV suitable for attacking targets in areas defended by anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles.