India’s Tactical Advanced Platform for Aerial Surveillance (TAPAS) Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV entered user trials stage in Q4 2022. The UAV, earlier called Rustom-II, has also successfully crossed multiple developmental milestones.

Developed by DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), the TAPAS achieved the interim endurance target of 18 hours, the DRDO announced on December 7. According to information released during DefExpo-2022 held in October, TAPAS had flown with a Medium Range Electro Optic (MREO) payload for 10 hours 20 minutes and had landed with 7 hours of fuel remaining.

Further, against the interim target of 28,000 feet altitude, the UAV had achieved 27,350 feet with an MREO payload. The endurance and altitude are expected to progressively touch 24 hours and over 30,000 feet respectively.

TAPAS can fly with Line of Sight (LoS) and SATCOM links. As of DefExpo 2022, the UAV had demonstrated a range of 290 km with LoS links (against the target of 250 km) and SATCOM range of 305 km (against the advertised 1000 km) when equipped with a Long Range Electro Optic (LREO) payload with over 40 km range.

TAPAS has completed multiple automatic take-offs and landings as well as night flying. Five flight trials were held to demonstrate Remote Video Terminal (RVT) from Rajahmundry airport.

Primarily meant for ISTAR missions, TAPAS is capable of being equipped with the following payloads: LREO, MREO, ELINT, COMINT and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) with sub-meter resolution among others. A naval variant will be equipped with a maritime patrol radar with SAR, ISAR and weather modes. The UAV is also capable of being armed.

The first flight of TAPAS was in November 2016.

TAPAS flight tests initially used various imported payloads. These include MREO, LREO, SAR, ELINT and UCR payloads. However, multiple indigenous payloads for MREO, SAR, IFF and COMINT have been flight tested with more in the pipeline. Furthermore, all types of payloads have been flight tested simultaneously.

Various subsystems associated with TAPAS such as indigenous and imported SATCOM, indigenous SATNAV INS, Antenna Pointing System for extended LoS range and datalink with security modules have also been flight tested. TAPAS is also equipped with a communication repeater to help relay communications for operations in difficult terrain.

Over 162 flights had been flown by October 2022. Additional UAVs are being produced for user trials. While these UAVs are equipped with engines from Austro, DRDO has developed a 180 hp diesel engine for TAPAS which has been tested at Leh and Changla. A 220 HP diesel engine being developed by DRDO is expected to eventually replace the other engines.

While the Indian Armed Forces are expected to buy a number of MQ-9 Reapers from the U.S., the bulk of the upcoming MALE UAV acquisitions is expected to be that of TAPAS. A total of 76 TAPAS drones are expected to be bought by the Indian armed forces. Multiple private firms are also developing MALE UAVs. ADE is also developing a single engine twin boom MALE UAV.