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HAL Combat Air Teaming System

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HAL Combat Air Teaming System
Role Unmanned combat aerial vehicle
National origin India
Manufacturer Defence Research and Development Organisation, National Aerospace Laboratories, Newspace Research & Technologies, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited
Introduction 2024-25
Status Under development
Primary user
  • Indian Air Force
  • Indian Navy

The HAL Combat Air Teaming System (CATS) is a planned unmanned and manned combat aircrafts' air teaming system being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.[1] The system will comprise of a manned fighter aircraft acting as "mothership" of the system and a set of swarming UAVs and UCAVs governed by the main aircraft. A twin-seated HAL Tejas is likely to be the main fighter aircraft[2][3] and other various components of the system are currently under development and are to be jointly produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and private firm namely "Newspace Research & Technologies".[4][5]

The primary aim is to make multiple advanced aerial platforms that can act as atmospheric satellite for high altitude surveillance, perform autonomous deep penetration precision strikes from standoff distance with maximum firepower while reduced human error and the threat on life. HAL is planning to complete all the project related developmental work by 2024 or 2025.[6][7] Similar systems are being developed by various agencies of the United States, Russian Federation and People's Republic of China.

Description and development[edit]

Modeled after United States Air Force (USAF) Skyborg project, Combat Air Teaming is composite amalgamation of a manned fighter aircraft acting as "mother ship" which is supported by a number of swarming UAV and UCAVs.[8][9] The objective is to make artificial intelligence (AI) based high altitude surveillance drone, air launch platform and loitering munitions with full situational awareness that can take out enemy targets from longer distance without the need of human pilots entering the battlefield. While Newspace Research & Technologies first proposed the idea, it was HAL that came up with the actual concept at the end of 2019 for a family of artificially intelligent (AI) weapons called Combat Air Teaming System (CATS) that included a range of subsystems meant to perform various kind of autonomous missions. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 2018 initiated a national level Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) programme under the Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO) to help startups develop advance technologies and products for the Indian Armed Forces such as long range loitering munitions, stealth coating etc.[10][11] Newspace Research & Technologies is one of the two Indian startups which is selected and funded through DRDO Technology Development Fund (TDF) for Combat Air Teaming System programme.[5][12]

The Indian Air Force (IAF), HAL and NewSpace already started working on CATS project quietly from 2017 with some initial testing done on Pokhran Test Range.[13] As per Deputy Chief Test Pilot at HAL and in-charge of the CATS project Group Captain (Retd) Harsh Vardhan Thakur, CATS is an umbrella term for a combination of manned and unmanned stealth infused assets to increase dominance and decrease human casualties in a highly contested air space where it can perform air to air and air to ground operations. In future, CATS will include unmanned cargo transport and rotary unmanned aerial vehicle (RUAV).[14][15]

As per Director of HAL Engineering, Research & Development division Arup Chatterjee, each subsystem under CATS project will cost ₹40 crore while an initial investment of ₹400 crore is needed for CATS Warrior, CATS Air Launched Flexible Assets (ALFA) and CATS Hunter.[4][16][13] The expected cost as per HAL is ₹1,000 crore that will include technology development and prototyping.[5] As of 2021, HAL already invested resources on Combat Air Teaming System programme from an allocated ₹400 crore internal budget with Indian Air Force planning to join at later stage of development cycle.[7][14] The main component in CATS is the Tejas Mark 1A aircraft which could be modified with additional command & control interface for this purpose which will then act as a Mothership for Air teaming eXploitation (MAX).[17] This CATS MAX will be equipped or teamed up with other sub systems like CATS Warrior, CATS Air Launched Flexible Assets (ALFA), CATS Hunter and CATS Infinity. To support the Manned and UnManned Teaming operations (MUM-T), an advance artificial intelligence (AI) based combat algorithm is being developed under a program called Air Combat Intelligence Development (ACID).[18][19]

The systems are currently under development which will be jointly produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited acting as the leading project agency with collaboration from National Aerospace Laboratories, Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) of Defence Research and Development Organisation and a private firm namely "Newspace Research & Technologies". CAIR is a subcontractor that will help develop an advance combat algorithm for artificially intelligent autonomous target acquisition system.[4][5] As per HAL, it will take 15 months to convert Tejas Mark 1A into CAT MAX platform.[20] Under the work share agreement, CATS Warrior will be co-developmental effort while HAL will develop CATS Hunter and CATS ALFA. At the same time Newspace Research & Technologies will work on ALFS-S and CATS Infinity.[21] As of 2020, the technologies under development for CATS MAX project will be first tested out on Jaguar MAX that will be equipped with DARIN III+ (Display Attack Ranging Inertial Navigation-III Plus) upgrade package.[5][22]

Various drones of the system can be housed in a carrier attached to the fighter plane. The carrier itself can glide around 100 km (62 mi) before deploying drones. The drones will be capable of launching various weapons like missiles, bombs and anti-airfield munitions. There will be drones which will also be able to hit cruise missiles or act as pseudo-satellites. All the components of the system are expecting completion by 2024 or 2025.[6] A twin seated HAL Tejas is expected to act as main fighter aircraft.[2][3]The main combat drone HAL CATS Warrior, itself will be able to release a swarm of 24 Alpha-S drones.[13] Similar systems are also being developed by agencies of China, Russia and the United States.[1][13] On Army Day in January 2021, Indian army flown a swarm of 75 drones with stated goal of taking numbers upto 1,000.[23]

Components[edit]

CATS Warrior[edit]

CATS Warrior will be powered by an improved version of HAL PTAE-7 in a twin turbojet engine configuration which was previously used in DRDO Lakshya.[16][24][25][26] Like the Loyal Wingman drone, it is also an unmanned stealth platform which can be controlled by the Mothership CATS MAX in formation of 2-4 warrior drone from as far as 150 kilometer and is able to fly alongside it to accomplish tasks such as scouting, absorbing enemy fire or even attacking the targets if necessary with its internal weapons.[9][15][27] With 700 km of maximum range for self-destruct suicide missions, CATS Warrior can also carry a payload of 24 ALFA-S up to 350 km for release and safely return to base.[7][14]

CATS Hunter[edit]

With KEPD 350 like appearance, the CATS Hunter weight 600 kg (1,300 lb) and will be powered by a single HAL PTAE-7 turbojet engine.[7] It is designed as a low observable standoff air-launched cruise missile that can be integrated into CATS MAX, Mirage 2000, Jaguar or Su-30MKI and will consist of an interchangeable weapon carriage section based on mission profile that can carry 250 kg (550 lb) of unitary warhead or cluster munition with a striking range of 200–300 km (120–190 mi).[13][28] Ones the payload is dropped at the designated target, CATS Hunter will able to return and can be recovered through a two tier parachute system.[15] It will use multiple global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and terrain contour matching (TERCOM) with mid-flight updates for guidance and an imaging seeker that can help in automatic target acquisition during terminal phase.[20][29][30]

CATS ALFA[edit]

It is a carrier which will contain Air Launched Flexible Asset (Swarm) (ALFA-S) loitering munition.[31] The carrier is capable of gliding and can cover around 100 km (62 mi) distance after being launched from the mothership.[32] After reaching the desired distance, the ALFA-S can automatically separate from CATS ALFA and fly using its own propulsion thereby increasing the overall striking range. ALFA-S weight 25 kg (55 lb) has foldable wings of 1 to 2 meter long and can carry 5 to 8 kilogram of warhead with a speed of 100 kilometer per hour.[33][20] ALFS-S is a networked swarm drone that can able to detect surface to air missile, radars and fighter jets stationed on ground. Using an artificially intelligent machine learning algorithm, the onboard mission computer and seeker on ALFA-S can perform autonomous target acquisition which then assign and self lock on target to perform suicidal attack using an individual or multiple drones.[34][35] As per Group Captain Harsh Vardan Thakur from HAL Flight Operations Unit, a Sukhoi Su-30MKI aircraft can carry 30 to 40 ALFA-S during flight.[4]

Under the India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), ALFA-S is the first joint project between Newspace Research & Technologies, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). HAL will also help in the designing of CATS ALFA carrier platform that will air launch ALFA-S loitering munition.[36][37][38] The first prototype of ALFA-S will be deployed on BAE Hawk 132 Advanced Jet Trainers.[35]

CATS Infinity[edit]

For last few years NewSpace Research & Technologies already started developing systems such as CATS Infinity. In 2017, Boeing helped in validating the UAV and was impressed by the design and technological advancement of Infinity in the field of aerospace engineering. The first flight of the system designed for high altitude pseudo satellite (HAPS) role was planned from 2019. It is a solar powered high altitude drone with an endurance level as far as 3 months at a cruising altitude of 70,000 ft (21,000 m).[5][13] Infinity is designed to be equipped with terrain mapping camera and will have the capability of producing airborne real time cueing hyperspectral enhanced reconnaissance for deep strike aerial missions inside enemy territory. With a wingspan of 50 meters, the drone uses multiple ultra-lightweight electric motors that generates a speed of 90 to 100 kilometer per hour. New Space is working on high-density rechargeable Lithium-Sulphur batteries that will help constantly power the system for longer duration.[39][40]

It is also intended as a platform for real time communication and control of unmanned ground vehicles like Mobile Autonomous Stabilisation System (MASS), Mobile Autonomous Robot System (MARS) and Muntra developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as well as in drone warfare under the CATS program.[40][41] The Infinity platform is build as an Indian alternative for civilian and military drones like Facebook Aquila, Airbus Zephyr and AVIC Morning Star of China.[42][43] As a civilian platform, it can also help in emergency management, internal security, providing communication for smart cities and traffic management.[39]

See also[edit]


Other articles of the topic Aviation : Terry J. Charlton, Jr, Albany Air, Abbas ibn Firnas, Leon C. “Derailer” Roberts, Air Italy Egypt, 2008 Conviasa Boeing 737 crash, 2009 Joy Flight crash
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  • History of unmanned combat aerial vehicles
  • DRDO Ghatak
  • Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie
  • Boeing Airpower Teaming System
  • Airbus Zephyr
  • Facebook Aquila
  • Drone swarming

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Technical:


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