Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is slated to start the production of the first 5 TAPAS Drones. The flight control systems, avionics and data-linked systems for the first 5 Tapas drones are ready. Rustom-II medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can reach the required altitude of 28,000 ft, G Satheesh Reddy, chairperson of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) reported Janes.

In an official communication ADE also confirmed the TAPAS drones to be armed. Work on this is progressing fast.

Meanwhile, India’s armed drones program was slammed by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in a 2020 report, which noted that keeping end-users in dark, poor planning and flouting of standard operating procedures hurt Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) projects.

Most of the components required for the production of the drone is expected to go to private defence agencies, HAL's role would ne that of  a lead integrator. The avionics, electronics, sensors, and ground control systems is likely to be manufactured by the state-owned defence sector behemoth BEL. DRDO’s Defence Electronics Application Laboratory, Dehradun, is responsible for developing and integrating the data links for Rustom-II.

Unmanned, Rustom-II has an overall length of 9.5 m and a wingspan of 20.6 m. It is powered by two Saturn 36T turboprop engines, each rated at 74.57 kW (100 hp). Also known as TAPAS-BH-201 (Tactical Advanced Platform for Aerial Surveillance-Beyond Horizon-201), Rustom-II weighs 1,800 kg and has a cruising speed of 135 kt.

It is designed to carry payloads of up to 350 kg. The mission payloads are reportedly Israel-sourced and include electro-optic (EO) and infrared (IR) sensors, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and maritime patrol radars, communications relay, and electronic intelligence (ELINT) and communications intelligence (COMINT) packages.

“We are now looking at endurance,” the DRDO Chief G Sateesh Reddy said, adding that in a month's time, the DRDO expects Rustom II to achieve more than 18 hours of flight time while operating at an altitude of 28,000 ft.

In November 2021 the DRDO demonstrated Rustom-II's ability to take off and land autonomously as well as its ability to utilise India's satellite-based navigation system – GPS-aided GEO augmented navigation (GAGAN) – that has been jointly built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Airports Authority of India (AAI).

DRDO projects are victims of massive time and cost overruns, plus there's a trust deficit between them and the armed forces. TAPAS drone is one of the many prime example of this chasm that is hounding India's defence production.