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India Conducts Maiden Flight of Autonomous Technology Demonstrator

India conducted its maiden flight of an autonomous technology demonstrator, taking a critical step toward unmanned combat aircraft development.

The demonstrator — also referred to as the Stealth Wing Flying Testbed or SWiFT — “exhibited a perfect flight, including take-off, way point navigation and a smooth touchdown,” India’s Ministry of Defence stated.

Designed and developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment — a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratory — the one-ton demonstrator is a scaled-down version of the upcoming Ghatak combat drone, DRDO wrote in a bulletin.

Stealthy Design

The platform’s “flying wing” configuration is 3.96 meters (13 feet) long and 4.8 meters (16 feet) wide and enables greater fuel-carrying capacity and range, The Print reported, adding that the design also makes the aircraft stealthier.

The SWiFT runs on a Russian NPO Saturn 36MT turbofan engine, according to Defense News. However, an indigenous small turbofan engine is being developed for the demonstrator, The Hindu added, citing a DRDO official. 

The demonstration was intended to assess the platform’s “stealth and high-speed landing technology in autonomous mode,” DRDO stated.

Requires ‘10 More Flights’

The flight test demonstrated the platform’s ability to “take off, climb in altitude, cruise midair, navigate to waypoints, descend and land autonomously” Defense News reported.

The data collected from the flight will be evaluated to plan for future modifications. In the next step, a “proven autonomous combat surveillance platform” will be developed, the outlet added, citing an unnamed scientist.

The platform will take “at least 10 more flights” to prove its capability, which is essential for government funding of the Ghatak drone.

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