The IAF's move aligns with its commitment to Make in India initiatives, complementing other defence procurements like TEJAS MK-1A and LCH helicopters

New Delhi: In a significant move to enhance indigenous unmanned surveillance capabilities, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has proposed to the central government the purchase of 10 TAPAS drones. Defence officials announced on Sunday that six of these Made-in-India drones are intended for the Indian Air Force, while the remaining four would be allocated to the Indian Navy.

The IAF is set to be the lead agency in the induction and acquisition process of the TAPAS drones for the defence forces. This proposal is expected to be reviewed soon by the Defence Ministry. Currently, only the IAF and the Indian Navy are involved in purchasing these drones.

Focus On Indigenous Development

TAPAS drones, classified as medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drones, have been developed indigenously by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Manufacturing is to be undertaken by a consortium comprising Bharat Electronics Limited and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The Tactical Airborne Platform for Aerial Surveillance Beyond Horizon-201 (TAPAS BH-201), formerly known as Rustom-II, is being developed to meet the surveillance needs akin to those of the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator.

Despite not fully meeting the current requirements of the defence forces, the limited induction of these drones is aimed at facilitating their upgrade and refinement to meet broader operational needs in the future. The IAF currently operates a fleet of Israeli-origin Searcher, Heron Mark-1, and Mark-2 drones and plans to induct American Predator MQ-9B drones as part of a tri-services acquisition.

Surveillance of Northern And Western Fronts

The inclusion of six indigenous TAPAS drones will bolster unmanned surveillance capabilities on both the northern and western fronts. The IAF has been a strong proponent of the Make in India initiative in defence, placing or planning orders for 180 LCA Mark 1A and 156 LCH attack helicopters, valued at approximately ₹1.6 lakh crore.

The Indian Navy, on the other hand, intends to utilize the TAPAS drones for maritime surveillance. Delivery of these drones is expected to be expedited, with the first unit ready for deployment within 24 months of contract signing. DRDO continues to work on the TAPAS project to enhance its performance further.

Addressing Performance Challenges

The TAPAS drones have faced challenges in meeting the Joint Services Qualitative Requirements, which include sustained flight at 30,000 feet for over 24 hours. Consequently, they have been excluded from mission mode projects. However, during trials, the TAPAS drones managed to achieve an altitude of 28,000 feet and an endurance of over 18 hours.

The IAF's proposal highlights its commitment to indigenization and its role in supporting the development of domestic defence capabilities. The acquisition of TAPAS drones is a step towards self-reliance in defence technology and strengthens the surveillance capabilities of India's armed forces.

The induction of TAPAS drones marks a significant milestone in India's defence technology journey. The ongoing development and refinement efforts are expected to address existing performance gaps and meet the stringent requirements of modern warfare. The collaboration between DRDO, Bharat Electronics Limited, and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is pivotal in achieving these objectives.

(With Agency Inputs)