Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) has unveiled a developmental air-teaming system that will incorporate the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft with various unmanned assets.

HAL has received the necessary approvals, and funding allocations are being made. The Indian air force and navy are believed to have backed the effort, designated Combat Air Teaming System (CATS).

Work on CATS started in the second half of 2018 and began in earnest in late 2019-early 2020, says HAL test pilot Group Captain H.V. Thakur (Retd).

He adds that preliminary design work has been completed. Thakur says that the Tejas twin-seat trainer is being optimised as part of a manned-unmanned teaming concept, as this variant still has some growth potential.

“Work is now being done to define the requirements for a future cockpit for the type capable of handling the workload,” Thakur says.

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 weaponised 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.

Much of the work is being done by HAL, which is also partnering with Indian start-ups to deliver the programme. 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.

The powerplant selected for the CATS Warrior is HAL’s PTAE-7, which will be uprated with FADEC controls and new long-life parts. The PTAE-7 was originally developed in the late 1980s as a powerplant for target drones.