India to launch its solar powered Aerial Vehicles

With strength of approximately 170,000 personnel and more than 1,600 aircrafts, the Indian Air Force is the world’s fourth largest air force. And with the recent spate of the ‘nascent’ arms race, India has already started to built up its own indigenous program for air superiority capability, such as the ‘Tejas’ (light combat aircraft) and Sukhoi 30 MKIs (India’s much advanced variant of Sukhoi 30). But shifting our focus to the relatively unknown facet of the air-force i.e. the UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), India is now looking forth to rather notch up a ‘green’ level by launching its program for solar-powered UAVs capable of flying for a fortnight.

To be developed by DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation), which is India’s premier defence research agency, these solar powered UAVs are envisaged to act as spy drones which can cruise in the sky for several days at a time. Though one could certainly conclude that - going ‘green’ was not DRDO’s top priority. These zero emission, high-altitude, long endurance (HALE) solar-powered UAVs can undertake a 15-day continuous flight over 30,000-feet. Moreover they will also feature the state-of-the-art, cost-effective and flexible 24×7 ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) platform, which is analogous a “pseudo-satellite” orbiting closer to the ground. The theoretically simple mechanism for power, involves - harnessing of solar energy during the daytime, and storing it in fuel cells for usage during the night time.

It should be noted that this project follows in the footsteps of DRDO’s earlier trysts with UAVs. Very recently they announced the previously secretive - AURA (autonomous unmanned research aircraft) program to develop UCAVs capable of firing missiles, bombs and PGMs (precision-guided munitions). For this project, Dr Prahlada, DRDO’s chief controller R&D (aeronautics), said:

Yes, Army and IAF have asked us to develop the solar-powered HALE UAV. Initial work is in progress for such a drone which can undertake a 15-day continuous flight over 30,000-feet. Solar efficiency is low but we are looking at a payload of around 50 kg (sensors, cameras etc). We will seek some collaboration from either US or European companies.


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