Adreesh Ghoshal

May 15, 2019

4 min read

DRDO successfully tests the ABHYAS aerial target drone

Source — Times

The Defence Research and Development Organisation or DRDO has successfully conducted a flight test of the ABHYAS High-Speed Expendable Aerial Target (HEAT) drone at the Interim Test Range in Chandipur, Orissa. This drone is based on the Lakshya, a remotely piloted high-speed drone developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), a sub-division of the DRDO.

The ABHYAS is launched from a mobile launcher with the help of two 68 mm booster rockets (being manufactured at ordnance factories). At the end of its launch phase, the burnt-out rockets are jettisoned. Thereafter, the main gas-turbine engine powers the vehicle during the cruise phase. This gives it a maximum speed of Mach 0.5 and a maximum ferry range of 500 km.

The drone will be launched using 2 86-mm rockets. Source

The ABHYAS uses the same, albeit a downsized version of the Lakshya drone’s basic design. This aerial target drone has a fuselage that consists of the nose cone, equipment bay, fuel tank bay, air intake bay, and tail cone. The nose and tail cones are built using glass fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP), while the equipment bay, air intake bay and the fuel tank are constructed out of an aluminum alloy. The wings and tailplane resemble that of the Lakshya, with one critical difference. The wings of the ABHYAS are placed on the upper-body whereas the Lakshya has under-body wings.

The Lakshya drone. Note the under-body wings (Source)

“The flight test was tracked by various RADARS and Electro-Optic Systems and proved its performance in fully autonomous waypoint navigation mode,” the DRDO said in a statement.
“The configuration of ABHYAS is designed on an in-line small gas turbine engine and uses an indigenously developed MEMS (microelectronic machine) based navigation system for guidance. The performance of the system was as per simulations carried out and demonstrated the capability of ABHYAS to meet the mission requirement for a cost-effective HEAT,” DRDO said

The specifications of the ABHYAS when first proposed as a design in 2012 are as below:
1. Maximum altitude — 5000m (approximately 16,000 feet)
2. Max speed — 0.5 Mach (617kph)
3. Maximum endurance/flight time — 45 min
4. G’s per turn — 2
5. Fuel — Jet A1/ATF
6. Length — 2385mm
7. Diameter — 180mm
8. Weight — 75kg
9. Engine thrust — 25kg
10. Range — 500km

The ABHYAS is GPS-enabled, has an onboard flight computer and is capable of autopilot-based navigation.

A target drone is used for aerial gunnery and anti-air operations training. The first one of its kind was the DH.82 Queen Bee, a variant of the Tiger Moth, which first flew in 1941.

Sir Winston Churchill with the radio-controlled version of the DeHavilland Tiger Moth. Source

In the West, obsolete aircraft are modified to be remotely piloted as aerial targets. These are also called Full-Scale Aerial Targets, or FSAT’s. In the U.S., drone versions of aircraft have “Q” added to the designation. A drone version of the F-16 is therefore called the QF-16. A number of very capable and popular aircraft have undergone the “Q” makeover, and some of them include

  1. QB-17 (originally a B-17 Flying Fortress)
  2. QF-100 (originally an F-100 Super Sabre)
  3. QF-4 Phantom II (originally an F-4 Phantom II)
  4. QF-86 Sabre (originally an F-86 Sabre)

While using FSAT’s will prove to be a costly affair for India, missile-based versions of target drones are actually cheaper to manufacture owing to their smaller dimensions. But they are, in reality, much more difficult to track because of their minuscule radar cross-section and almost zero visual and infrared signature.

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