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Designed and developed indigenously, India’s first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made its flying debut at Aero India 2023 on 13 February 2023. The Tactical Airborne Platform for Aerial Surveillance Beyond Horizon (TAPAS BH), which is essentially an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) UAV, flew for six hours at the air show at an altitude of 4,572 m (15,000 ft), in a rectangular pattern of 5 ×10 km, at a speed of 92.6 m/s (180 kn).

Expressing satisfaction with the performance, the TAPAS team of the government-owned Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) stated, “This is the first time that a UAV has been given clearance to fly at Aero India. The TAPAS BH will be a game changer and a force multiplier as it … engages in ISR, which will help the manned missions, like the Galwan sector incident at the Indo-China border that happened in 2020. Surveillance and intelligence would have helped in that sector.”

In June 2020 a savage brawl took place between Indian and Chinese troops took place in the Himalayan Galwan river valley. Although no firearms were used, the incident left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead.

The TAPAS BH made its debut at Aero India 2023 and will undergo user evaluation trials this March. (Photo: Suman Sharma)

Officially termed a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV, the twin-engine TAPAS BH is capable of automatic take-off and landing, can fly with an all-up weight of 2,850 km, has an endurance of 20 hours and can carry weapons if required (up to a 50 kg missile). Its developers claim it can go undetected at a range of 70 km and unidentified at 40 km.

The TAPAS BH, which was first sanctioned in 2011, conducted its first flight in November 2016 and will undergo user evaluation trials in March 2023, to be witnessed by a tri-services team from the Indian armed forces.

The UAV is seen as a major part of the Indian government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. At Aero India 2023 teams from Nepal, the UK Ministry of Defence and some neighbouring nations visited the hall occupied by the Indian government-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation and ADE, thereby sparking interest in the new platform.

An advanced Mk II version of the TAPAS BH, also known as the Single Engine Twin Boom (SETB) UAV, is currently being prepared for its first flight, scheduled for June 2023. The SETB will be capable of carrying a 300 kg weapon payload.

A total of 76 TAPAS UAVs are on order: 60 for the Indian Army, 12 for the Indian Air Force and four for the Indian Navy. More orders are expected as TAPAS BH is certified and inducted, with export orders also anticipated.

Suman Sharma