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The Drone Index: DRDO Rustom II

July 2, 2015

Indian Rustom 2 MALE UAV

Many countries today are pursuing their own indigenous drone programs with mixed results. But the jury is still out on the Rustom, a series of UAVs developed by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) for the Indian military.

With almost 20 years of experience flying Israeli-made UAVs, the original Rustom was intended to serve as India’s favored ISR platform. Since 2012, however, a heavier model called the Rustom II was being groomed for an offensive role. India’s requirement for UAVs of all types can’t be understated–more than 1,000 variants are needed by the armed forces and government in coming years.

Since exports of the General Atomics Predator B or MQ-9 Reaper are tightly controlled the Indian government launched its own armed UAV program four years ago. The necessity for local drone production is an urgent one since the state is battling terrorist groups and threats from within and without. The result is the propeller-driven Rustom II.

And it’s a tough bird. Its specifications belong to the higher end of the MALE UAV spectrum. With the dimensions of a small turbo-prop plane, including a 70 foot wingspan, the Rustom is deployed from either runways or airstrips. With two 100 horsepower engines–sources claim Russian or European origin–the Rustom II soars to a maximum ceiling of 35,000 feet, with mission altitude at 40,000 ft. Depending on its mission, its speed is between 125 kilometers-per-hour and 175 km/h. Maximum speed is 225 km/h with maximum range at 1,000 km. On paper, the Rustom II manages an impressive 35 hours of operational flying time. It can reportedly lift more than 700 pounds of cargo.

Its layout is conventional. The nose blister at the front, likely for housing synthetic aperture radar and GPS tracking, is modeled after US and Israeli UAVs. The Rustom II uses tricycle pattern retractable landing gear, although the frontal gear appears inconveniently close to the FLIR camera. It’s worth taking note of the Rustom II’s T-shaped tail section, which sets it apart from its peers from abroad.

Meant to be a joint venture between the DRDO and a private firm, the original plan for the Rustom II was for collaborative input from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) who could handle the avionics and possible armaments. In 2015 this partnership was scrapped to create opportunities for other industry players in local defense and aerospace. More trouble roiled the Rustom II program in 2014 when lack of access to critical components, like engines and sensors, delayed its flight testing.

At present, the Rustom II has just finished its pre-flight trials in early 2015. Exactly how Rustom II carries, flies, and launches its weapons have yet to be determined. The Indian military’s current armed UAV requirement is between 75 to 77 drones.

It’s too early to tell if the Rustom II ever enters production and enjoys a long career hunting enemies of the state. But its potential as an armed UAV is beyond doubt.

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