Rustom-II takes to skies as mystery over transfer of its project director continues

Rustom 2 Test flight of Rustom-II | ANI

Over a month after 'unceremonious departure' of the project director of Rustom-II drone A.P.V.S. Prasad, DRDO on Sunday carried out test flight of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in Challakere in Karnataka's Chitradurga district.

After the test, DRDO came out with a statement that a medium-altitude long-endurance UAV was "successful".

However, colleagues of Prasad—“scientist-G”who was made project director of the Rustom-II UAV programme of DRDO in 2015—are still curious to know the reason behind Prasad's sudden transfer from the project, which he actually revived. Insiders claim that Prasad's departure was linked to his objection to the lobby, which was pushing for a particular engine for the Rustom-II. Rustom was being developed with an Austrian engine, but a few people in the organisation wanted to replace it with the engine made by an Indian firm, despite the engine's failure to meet the 'technical parameters' to be used in the UAV.

Sensing foul play, Scientists Association of Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE)—DRDO's laboratory making the UAVs—has approached Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to look into the matter (copy of the letter is with The WEEK). Following the complaint, a discreet inquiry is being conducted by the intelligence agencies.

On January 16, 2018, DRDO's headquarters issued an order for transfer of Prasad to an another DRDO lab on grounds of “public interest”. Incidentally, Prasad was honoured with the best scientist award in 2017.

According to the letter from the ADE association, Prasad, who was in the DRDO for over 30 years, was promoted as the programme director of coveted Rustom-II in 2015. He actually rejuvenating the project, which was lying in a pathetic condition, and within a year of taking over, he managed to carry out first test flight of Rustom-II, the letter reveals.

When contacted, DRDO spokesperson Manish Bhardwaj declined to comment on the issue saying “he was unaware of the internal developments”.

On Sunday, DRDO came out with a statement saying "DRDO successfully flew its Rustom 2 today at its Aeronautical Test Range (ATR) at Chalakere at Chitradurga. This flight assumes significance due to the fact that this is the first flight in user configuration with higher power engine."

Unarmed drone Rustom-II is being developed to carry out surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles for the armed forces with an endurance of 24 hours, on the lines of Predator drone of the US forces.

According to the officials, Rustom-II is capable of carrying different combinations of payloads like synthetic aperture radar, electronic intelligence systems and situational awareness payloads.