India Developing Light Combat Aircraft Teamed with Unmanned Systems


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Manned-unmanned teaming concept forms the base for a new Indian aircraft. Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) has unveiled a developmental air-teaming system that will incorporate the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft with various unmanned assets.

The Indian air force and navy are believed to have backed the effort, designated Combat Air Teaming System (CATS).

Work on CATS started in 2018, says HAL test pilot Group Captain H.V. Thakur (Retd). Preliminary design work has been completed and the Tejas twin-seat trainer is being optimized as part of a manned-unmanned teaming concept, as this variant still has some growth potential, he said. 

As part of CATS, future variants of the Tejas Mk-1A will act as a ‘Mothership for Air teaming eXploitation’ (MAX) and will be modified with additional command and control interfaces for this purpose.

Several other elements are included. The CATS Warrior is a low-observable unmanned wingman, which is controlled from CATS MAX. A full-size CATS Warrior mock-up displayed at the Aero India show in Bengaluru also featured MBDA’s ASRAAM short-range air-to-air missile, designated NGCCM (New Generation Close Combat Missile) in Indian air force service.

Another element involves swarming UAVs called CATS ALFA (Air Launched Flexible Assets), which can be launched from CATS-MAX and work as a swarm of weaponized drones, as well as the CATS Hunter multi-purpose weapons carriage system.

A high-altitude, long-endurance UAV is also being considered as part of CATS.

Scale models are expected to begin testing in the near future. Since the Tejas lacks an operational datalink, HAL is looking to integrate an indigenous datalink that is being tested on the Hawk-i – a locally modified version of the BAE Systems Hawk 132, according to