Sunday, December 5, 2021

Meet Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s CATS: India’s advanced combat air defence drones

Imagine a fighter aircraft flying in hostile air space, the pilot in the cockpit operating the aircraft, and just a few meters away, there is a drone flying and the pilot is controlling that drone to execute an attack on an aerial threat. This is called a ‘loyal wingman system’ where an aircraft with a human in it operates an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flying somewhere else using artificial intelligence.

This is the advanced technology, India’s aerospace major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) along with the Bengaluru-based NewSpace startup is developing as a part of the indigenous ‘Combat Air Teaming System’ (CATS). CATS drone is a deep penetration aerial attack system that enables a fighter pilot to remain safely within the country’s borders, while being able to deploy missiles or swarms of drones deep into enemy territory to destroy targets.

The stealth drones can carry up to 4 conventional munitions including cruise missiles, runway destroying bombs, and other payloads. The aerial vehicle has a capacity of flying at a speed of 350 km into the enemy’s territory guided by “mother ship,” – a light combat aircraft (LCA), which can enter the enemy region, drop its missile and return to base.

The project has been exclusively earmarked by HAL for all three defence arms of the nation, the Indian Army, Navy, and Airforce. With an initial investment of Rs 400 crore, work has been started on the three separate components that comprise the CATS system – CATS Warrior (Teaming drone), CATS Hunter (air-launched cruise missile) and Alpha-S (glider drone), all of which are unmanned systems but controlled by the pilot from the mothership via secure data links, and equipped with electro-optical and infrared sensors.

The CATS Trilogy

CATS Hunter:

Conceived as an air-launched cruise missile, CATS Hunter has a capacity of deep penetration strikes, which can be put as a payload on various Indian aircraft like Sukhoi-30 MKI, LCA Tejas, and Jaguar jets.

CATS Warrior:

Capable of taking off on its own from the ground, CATS Warrior can strike target enemy regions carrying up to 250 kg heavy explosives like Smart Anti Airfield weapon (SAAW) and Next Advanced Generation Missile (NAGM).

Alpha-S

The Alpha-S can be released directly by a mother ship using a glider that can carry the drone swarms deep into enemy territory, controlled by the pilot networked via electronic data links, and equipped with electro-optical and infrared sensors.

HAL’s eye in the sky

In a first, HAL is also planning to develop an unmanned aerial system that can fly at about 70,000 ft continuously for 2-3 months, to maintain surveillance on the ground below. The futuristic concept has been described as a ‘world’s first’ by HAL, which no other country has developed yet. The solar energized system will also be developed jointly with a startup to bolster India’s space power.

HAL to provide basic trainers to IAF

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) received a Request for Proposal (RFP) from the Indian Air Force (IAF) early this year, for 70 HTT-40 Basic Trainer Aircraft with provision for 38 more. The production will take place at two manufacturing facilities of HALin Bengaluru and Nashik, with more than 60 percent indigenous content.

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