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HAL, IAI developing unmanned helicopter

India and Israel have begun joint development of an unmanned helicopter capable of operating in severe weather conditions, according to reports in the Israeli media. The unmanned rotary wing aircraft will have automated takeoff and landing systems for use on unprepared fields on land and from ships at sea.

Being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Israel Aerospace Industries' (IAI) unmanned air vehicle division, Malat, the helicopter will also have a dual automated sophisticated operating systems for enhanced safety, said a report in Israeli business daily, Globes.

The unmanned helicopter meant primarily for use by the navy will carry payloads such as day-and-night-imaging systems and various radar systems.

Its main advantage over unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) is its ability to takeoff from and land anywhere, including from ships, the report added. 

The prototype being developed is based on the HAL-built Chetak airframe, a derivative of the French Alouette, and some reports suggest that test flights are already scheduled for the coming months.

According to these reports, the flight control system to be used in the unmanned helicopter was previously developed by IAI using a Bell 206 airfarme. Through this programme IAI developed a kit that it says will allow for a "plug and fly" conversion of any helicopter for unmanned operations.

An earlier IAI effort to develop a hovering UAV in the late 1980s was unsuccessful and led to the company terminating development activities.

However, work on vertical take-off and landing UAVs was revived following interest from potential users including the Indian and Israeli navies. While the Israeli Navy would seek to equip its fleet of missile boats, in the case of the Indian Navy options are much wider, ranging from missile boats to frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers.

According to Israeli media, IAI CEO Itzhak Nissan is presently in India to finalize a number of agreements with Tata. IAI signed an agreement with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd to jointly develop and manufacture defence products.

IAI is also collaborating with a number of Indian aerospace companies, including the Indian Space Research Organisation which recently launched its TecSAR satellite on its launch vehicle.

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