HAL has proposed a six-step selection process, including drafting a business plan, it hopes to complete by March 2014.
“The defense minister is keen that the entire process takes as little time as possible. We realize what developing products from scratch entails, and that is one of the chief reasons we are willing to partner in available systems but lead the effort in modifying them for Indian and international customers through partnerships,” a member of HAL's board of directors said.
To be sure, the Indian aerospace establishment, which is monopolized by state-owned companies such as HAL along with a scattering of laboratories, has several indigenous UAS programs in various stages of development.
For instance, the Aeronautical Development Establishment, a laboratory under the Defense Research and Development Organization, is looking to initiate flight-testing of the MALE UAS Rustom-2 by February 2014. Another UAS—the tactical Nishant from the same lab—is due to enter service with the army this year following a protracted development. The Aeronautical Development Agency, known best as the unit leading the development of India's Tejas light fighter aircraft, is also working on concept studies for a stealth flying-wing strike UAS. And the National Aeronautical Laboratory, a body that works under India's Ministry of Science rather than the defense ministry, is also steeped in developing mini- and micro-UAS.
HAL builds the indigenous Lakshya remotely piloted target drone, and provides maintenance services to India's fleet of Israeli-built tactical surveillance drones. HAL is also developing the Naval Rotary UAV with IAI's Malat Div. for an unmanned Chetak/Alouette-III helicopter. The program has been beset with technological hurdles for at least three years and remains far from operational capability. A separate division of HAL is developing mini engines for UAS and cruise missiles.