New Delhi (ISJ): India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is in an image-change mode ? from a lethargic organisation known for cost and time over-runs to the select club of defence research organisations in the world; it now plans to go hypersonic to take India to the "defence super club" of the world. DRDO is currently developing a hypersonic vehicle, which can cruise at Mach 6.5, or at a speed of almost 6,000 kilometres per hour at an altitude of 32.5 km. It is being developed as a platform for weapon delivery in due course.
The vehicle is a missile carrier, which flies at a higher speed, delivers the weapon and comes back. Chief of DRDO Dr. Avinash Chander told Indian Science Journal on the eve of the 57th Foundation Day of the organisation, and experimental flight of 20 seconds is planned for next year. The Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) is being developed at the Hyderabad-based Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL). "We are expecting to do an experimental flight of 20 seconds next year, and experimental vehicle to prove the 900 kg vehicle," said Avinash Chander, Chief of DRDO. "Next step from that is to take out a vehicle, which can fly for almost an hour. And then the third step will be to scale it up to a size, which can carry sufficient payload." The Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle uses scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) technology, where combustion takes place at supersonic airflow. It relies on high vehicle speed to forcefully compress and decelerate the incoming air before combustion. The airflow in scramjet is supersonic throughout the entire engine and allows it operate efficiently at extremely high speeds. Hypersonic vehicles can attain speed faster than five times the speed of sound or Mach 5, equivalent to around 6,200 kmh at sea level and 5,300 kmh at high altitudes and can dodge interceptors or change trajectory if a target moves. It would not be subject to existing treaties on ballistic missile arsenals. Unlike rockets, which must carry both fuel and oxidizer, scramjets carry only fuel; they take oxygen from the atmosphere. This reduces weight, reducing payload and increasing capability. USA was the first country to develop a hypersonic aircraft. NASA's X-43A became the first scramjet-powered aircraft to successfully operate in flight in 2004. Recently NASA did an experimental flight of the 'aircraft of the future' for about 200 seconds.