Sunday, October 04, 2020

High On Confidence, DRDO Puts Into Play Production Plans Of It's Abhyas Aerial Target

Abhyas - High-speed Expendable Aerial Target - HEAT - ADE - 01

On September 22, 2020, the same day it reported a successful flight-test of it's Abhyas High-speed Expendable Aerial Target [HEAT] drone, the  Aeronautical Development Establishment [ADE], called on a meeting of the members of India Inc. A livestream of the test was, likely, arranged at the meeting, to "get the juices flowing". Unsurprisingly, signing a NDA was a pre-requisite to attending the meeting. The test marked the 5th developmental flight of this system, work on which commenced in 2011. The programme has, since, attained sufficient maturity & is, now, ready to take wings.

Few weeks before the test, this DRDO lab sent out a notice, soliciting Expression of Interest [EOI] from qualified Indian Companies to build & supply the Abhyas. It estimates an Annual requirement of 200 of these target drones. Scaling up of Military strength & expanding development programmes would see this number only moving North in the future.

Abhyas - High-speed Expendable Aerial Target - HEAT - ADE - EOI - 01

It informs that, "The Partner selected for the current scope of work, will be subsequently also considered as a prospective Development cum Production Partner (DcPP) or a Production Agency (PA) as a single point of source for all the future requirements of users for expendable target systems.". Given the 1-use nature of the device, the varied domestic end-use & users, tangible export potentials, & it's future growth into variants & offshoots, the Abhyas holds a promise of being a money-spinner for the Assembler-Developer tag team eventually formed. As part of the agreement, the Company would be responsible for Manufacturing, Assembly, Integration & Check-out Testing the Abhyas, prior to delivery. The juice of the matter would be discussed during the meet, to chalk out the roadmap for putting the Abhyas into production.

Abhyas - High-speed Expendable Aerial Target - HEAT - ADE - 02
The notice stipulates that the "Partner must have executed successfully at least 5 past orders for aerospace/Defence systems to Indian/foreign aeronautics/Defence/space customers.". This restricts participation by upcoming Indian endeavours, one that are looking to diversify into this domain. The recent raft of announcements aiming to provide impetus to domestic Defence Production has generated sufficient interest including amongst Companies having necessary liquidity, capability & lineage, but have, so far, not ventured into this highly volatile Indian scene. The Abhyas could have been an ideal test-case for initiation. While assuring a stable, long production run, it wouldn't count amongst the most "hi-tech est" of products out there. A need to revisit the eligibility clause.

This push to manufacture the Abhyas in India would certainly help curtailing current imports trends. The country has been purchasing Aerial targets like the Mirach 100/5 from the Italian Galileo Avionica & the British QinetiQ Target Systems supplies its Banshee Jet 80 to, both, the Indian Air Force & Navy. Airbus had made presentations at the Integrated Test Range [ITR] with it's DO-DT25 & DO-DT45 systems. The ADE itself, prior to the Abhyas, had developed the Lakshya Aerial Target system, which went into serial production, and has found extensive use among Indian end-users. Being a towed system, it requires retrieval at end of mission, as do the Mirach & Banshee.

Banshee Jet 80 - Aerial Target Drone - QinetiQ Target Systems - 01

For Indian end-users, this often poses a challenge, as ITR, the nerve centre of India's test-flight activities, overlooks the Bay of Bengal. In the event that a device becomes untraceable, we get visuals, as below, where fishermen later chance upon it & carry them back on their shoulders. Serviceability of the parent system & high operational cost are other factors that necessitated development of a more sustainable solution.

Banshee Jet 80 - Aerial Target Drone - QinetiQ Target Systems - 02
The low-cost, one-time use Abhyas, on the other hand, does away with the retrieval altogether. It's flight is initiated with a pair of 68-mm Rockets, that subsequently, transitions to a Gas Turbine-powered flight, generating thrust of 24 kg-f. With the incorporation of Composites at it's Nose & Tail Cone, developers have been able to restrict it's gross weight to 75 kgs.
Luneburg Lens - RCS Increasing - Abhyas HEAT - 01
An interesting technology incorporated in the Abhyas is the use of a Luneburg Lens. A sphere, it is fitted in it's Nose Cone, it allows for the device to display a larger Radar Cross-Section, than it's actual dimensions. This allows it to mimic larger targets for acquisition by a Surface to Air Missile [SAM] or Air to Air Missile [AAM]. The Banshee, for example, can accommodate two such lenses. No power requirement, as these operate passively. The Abhyas, on the other hand, accommodates 1.
Luneburg Lens - RCS Increasing - Banshee Jet 80 - 01
In 2016, the DG of Army Air Defence had, itself, called on the country's private sector to come up with it's own Advanced Pilotless Target Aircraft [APTA] & Manoeuvrable Expendable Aerial Target [MEAT] systems, like the Mirach & DO-DT25 respectively. The Bengaluru-based MSME NFOTEC Digital Engineering has responded to the call & is working on the latter, in collaboration with the another MSME, Micronel Global Engineers and behemoth L&T Defence.
Abhyas is also a MEAT. With ADE's own call to the private sector, both organisations have expressed common goals.

The Abhyas' potential to scale up it's utility is significant. Incorporating a  Terminal phase Homing to it's Micro Navigation System [MINGS], and replacing the Luneburg Lens with ordnance, the Abhyas, principally, turns into a loitering munition. Similarly, using a Lens that gives out a cross-section of a Transport aircraft, the Abhyas becomes a decoy platform, like the one collecting ELINT, or deploying SF operatives behind enemy lines. The ability to develop variants is limited only by the commitment to pursue work on those lines & resources allocated for it.

Luneburg Lens - RCS Increasing - Banshee Jet 80 - 01

Reference: Images relating to Luneburg Lens, courtesy


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