AURA or Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft is an Indian initiative at building an Unmanned Combat Air vehicle (UCAV) with special preference given to the stealth features. The examples of these UCAV’s are X47 of US , Dassault nEUROn (France) & BAE Taranis , all of which are on the initial stage of development & testing. The X47b program of US Navy being front runner as it has recently started taking off from the US Aircraft carriers.
The purpose of the DRDO is to provide the Indian Air force with an option to deliver the payloads to enemy location without endangering the life of the pilot . This will act along side with the PAK-FA & AMCA , the 5th Generations of fighter aircrafts that will start showing up on the IAF inventory towards the end of this decade or start of the next. The AURA program is also meant to compete with the other programs to provide the IAF with the best technically advanced UCAV which will form the backbone of the airforce in the next decade .
The important point to note is that DRDO has already made progress in the field of UCAV with the introduction of RUSTOM -2 UCAV which if going through the trails & is expected to enter service in few years. With two or more prototypes being built till now ,DRDO is fast tracking its UAV/UCAV programs to meet the requirements of the IAF.It also expected that most of the basic technological requirements for developing the UAV/UCAV will be tested on RUSTOM programs first before being implemented on to the AURA project.
One of the basic difference between the AURA & RUSTOM program is that the former is a stealth UCAV powered by a jet engine (possibly non after burning version of kaveri ) while the latter is a prop based engine . Both of this programs fulfill different purposes with Indian Armed forces ,one will serve as a surveillance UAV with long term endurance while the other will lead the attack on the enemy forces .
With the progress of DRDO programs in the coming days AURA is expected to make its first flight in 2015 .There is very less information about the program in the public domain because of it being a Black project, but the DRDO has shown its capabilities in the past years & Indian military establishment is also confident on the project.
One of the hurdle in the AURA project is the engine which is expected to be Kaveri non afterburning version , DRDO has not made progress in the indigenous jet engine project & the Indian military continues to depend on the foreign engine manufacturers for their requirements. With AL-41 & RD33 from Russia , F414 from US & Adour from Rolls-Royce the country depends on many manufacturers to keep its equipment's at par. The HAL manufactures some of these engines at India but one of the most important aspect of the engine manufacturing ,the blades of the engine comes from abroad & HAL just do the assembly work.
If the engine problem is solved by the DRDO bases Labs India will join the elite club of U.S,France,U.K. &Russia with jet engine manufacturing technology. China is also making strives of progress in this field but is still struggling with ws10 engine for its fighter aircrafts .
We only hope that DRDO make progress with the engine technology & the stealth technology so that project AURA could become reality for the IAF .With AMCA & FGFA projects the DRDO labs are already working on the stealth aspect of the project.