The flight-testing of India’s ‘Warrior’ drone, part of the indigenous Combat Air Teaming System (CATS) being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) along with private sector players, will begin by 2024, Janes has reported.
“A loyal wingman programme being developed by India’s HAL is on schedule to see flight-testing by 2024,” the report says.
HAL’s Warrior is being developed to go into combat as a loyal wingman drone with existing manned fighter jets like LCA Tejas and Rafale of the IAF to complement and maximise their effectiveness.
The drone, integrated with sensors, will be a force multiplier for the manned fighter, capable of performing surveillance, reconnaissance and early warning missions to aid its mission.
A mock-up of the drone, which first emerged in 2019, found a place at HAL’s pavilion at Aero India 2021. It was placed below a mock-up of LCA Tejas fighter carrying other systems part of CATS.
CATS has been described as “a composite amalgamation of manned and unmanned platforms which work together to penetrate heavily defended enemy airspace.” This manned-unmanned teaming system was in the early stages of development when revealed at Aero India 2021.
Other parts of CATS displayed at Aero India included a cruise missile called CATS Hunter and the CATS ALFA-S switchblade swarm drone.
CATS Hunter will be capable of hitting targets at a range of 200 kilometres.
ALFA-S [Air Launched Flexible Asset – Swarm] drone is being developed with New Space Research & Technologies, a start-up based in Bengaluru. First unveiled as part of the ‘Jaguar Max’ upgrade package in 2019, it is a swarm drone system which can hone in on multiple targets.
The system comprises of drones housed in a carrier. This carrier, mounted on a fighter, is capable of gliding around 100 km before deploying the drones. These drones can hit enemy targets such as surface to air missiles sites and aircraft parked on the ground.
The Warrior drone is also being developed with a private player.
The loyal wingman can be armed with air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles. The Warrior model displayed at Aero India 2021 carried a Smart Anti-Airfield Weapon (SAAW), an indigenously developed long-range precision-guided stand-off munition developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
According to reports, fighter jets of the IAF will be upgraded and modified to command unmanned warrior platforms. A single fighter jet upgraded (LCA Tejas fighter labeled ‘CATS MAX’ in the picture above) for the purpose will be able to command multiple Warrior drones and carry other elements of CATS.
The use of unmanned Warrior platform as a loyal wingman will not only act as a force multiplier but also bring down the chances of loss of life during an attack.
Such air combat teaming systems are also being developed in the US, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Boeing is working on an Airpower Teaming System, also called the Boeing Loyal Wingman project, in Australia. Kratos Defense & Security Solutions has developed a loyal wingman aircraft called Valkyrie in the US.