The secretive stealth aircraft is being developed entirely as a national project with international support reduced to the bare minimum.
Images of a scale model of the Indian Air Force Ghatak UCAV (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) surfaced for the first time in a recent video of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT-Kanpur). The UAV design lecture was posted on the institute’s YouTube channel on September 28 and the model, which is reportedly the first to feature also a landing gear, was seen in the background in the laboratory where the lecture was recorded.
As first reported by Livefist, this could be either a mockup or a sub-scale flying model of the SWiFT (Stealth Wing Flying Testbed), the technology demonstrator designed and built in collaboration with the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) to prove technologies for the Ghatak. A prototype SWiFT will be fitted with a Russian NPO Saturn 36MT turbofan engine, which currently powers the Indian Nirbhay cruise missile. Another similar but smaller model was also visible in the video.
The Ghatak project, which in Hindi means “dangerous”/”deadly”, began as Project AURA (autonomous unmanned research aircraft) and was first acknowledged in 2010, directed by a team which reported directly to the Prime Minister. The program, worth at least 8M USD until now, is focusing on the development of the drone entirely in India, with technology transfers from abroad reduced to the bare minimum.
Ghatak, which will be approximately eight times bigger than SWiFT, is being developed as a stealth bomber aircraft to both attack ground targets with precision weapons and perform ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions. The SWiFT prototype is reportedly scheduled to fly for the first time next year, while Ghatak won’t be flying before 202-2025.
Other than IIT Kanpur, which is studying the autonomous flight of a low RCS (Radar Cross Section) aircraft with a ducted fan engine and performing wind tunnel testing to finetune the UCAV’s shape, IIT Bombay collaborated with the design and testing of the serpentine air intake duct (also known as S-duct inlet) for the engine.
The final Ghatak configuration will be powered by the Indian-made Kaveri engine, designed for the LCA Tejas, in a non-afterburning variant. The engine didn’t meet the expected power outputs, however the French aerospace companies Dassault and Safran are reportedly collaborating to help fix the engine and refine the aircraft design as part of the technology transfers that are included with the Indian deal for the Rafale. According to Livefist, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems,and MiG Corp also offered assistance for the Ghatak program.
The Ghatak UCAV is being kept strictly under cover and there are not much technical details available. The UCAV is being described as capable of flying at high speed, which some sources claims could be Mach 1.2, at an altitude of 30,000 ft with a range of more than 300 km. The range seems somewhat too short for that speed and altitude, but considering the “more than” it could simply be a way to not disclose the real expected range.
The MTOW (Maximum Take-Off Weight) is reported at about 15000 kg, of which 2000 kg will be the weapons payload. The aircraft will reportedly be equipped with an EO/IR sensor (Electro-Optical/Infra-Red) and an AESA radar (Active Electronically Scanned Array), accompanied by an extensive electronic warfare suite.