The recent loss of a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV during experimental flight trials is a setback for an ambitious program of India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO).
A developmental prototype of the Tactical Advanced Platform for Aerial Surveillance UAV Beyond Horizon-201 (TAPAS-BH-201 / TAPAS 201), crashed soon after it took off from the DRDO’s Aeronautical Testing Range located at Chitradurga, approximately 250 km northwest of Bangalore.
The MALE UAV is also known by the name ‘Rustom II’.
According to the DRDO, a new configuration of TAPAS 201 was being flight tested when the crash took place. Flight data is being analysed to ascertain the causes for the loss.
Images circulated in local media of the crash site showed a badly damaged UAV with ‘TAPAS-04-19’ markings.
The development of a MALE UAV to meet a tri-services requirement is an ambitious undertaking, considering that the DRDO’s earlier efforts at UAV development have been less than stellar.
TAPAS 201 features lofty specifications, such as an operating altitude of 30,000 ft (service ceiling 32,000 feet) and the ability to take off from runways as high as 11,000 feet. The two-ton MALE UAV will be able to carry a payload of 350 kg and undertake intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for the Indian army, air force and navy.
As part of developmental trials, TAPAS 201 prototypes have displayed a maximum endurance of 1.25 hours, range of 40 km and an altitude of 14,200 feet. Testing of a higher powered engine, commenced in February 2018.
User Configuration flights started in February 2018.
There are thought to be a total of six TAPAS 201 prototypes flying. The sixth prototype, AF6, made its maiden flight in January.
The first R&D prototype made its maiden flight in November 2016.