The Tapas UAV, which underwent a trial flight by the Navy on June 19, is now prepared for user evaluation trials, according to the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). This announcement comes in the wake of India's plans to procure General Atomics MQ-9B high altitude-long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as mentioned in the joint statement issued after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the United States.
The DRDO aims to deploy the Tapas UAV to the Indian Navy, Army, and Air Force after successful user evaluation trials. However, there is a time constraint as the indigenous system must comply with domestic rules and complete the complex and detailed design and development process before market forces potentially overshadow its prospects.
The evaluation process, particularly the tri-service evaluation, plays a vital role in determining the satisfaction and specific requirements of each service branch.
The Navy, with a greater need due to aircraft carriers and forward deployment, may operate a significant number of the MQ-9B drones, while the Air Force and Army would also have their respective roles and requirements.
The need to enhance surveillance capabilities, particularly in high-altitude and desert environments, is crucial for the Army, while the Navy focuses on intercepting incoming threats.
The Kargil conflict revealed the lack of UAVs in the Army's arsenal, highlighting the importance of such systems for aerial surveillance. It is yet to be determined how the Tapas UAV will fare in the acquisition process compared to the MQ-9B, considering their technological specifications and possible overlaps in capabilities.
The question remains whether the Tapas UAV, developed during a previous era of military collaboration, can survive the current acquisition process and meet India's specific requirements.