by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
The Nishant was supposed to be the Indian Army’s premier, domestically-produced surveillance drone. But now it can’t be because all of them, every single one, crashed.
To be fair, there were only four Nishants. The product of a development program dating to 1995 from India’s state-owned Defense Research and Development Organization, the Nishant was meant to be a medium-altitude drone in a similar class to the Israeli Heron, which India also operates.
The difference being that India would produce the Nishant itself, freeing the country from its dependence on foreign unmanned vehicles, just as China and Pakistan race ahead producing drones of their own.
During its brief lifespan, the catapult-launched Nishant could stay in the air for four-and-a-half hours. The drone carried no weapons. Returning to base, the Nishant would not land like an airplane, but deploy a parachute and float to earth.
It could not carry weapons, as it functioned strictly in a reconnaissance role — spotting for artillery, snooping on enemy troops and hoovering up electronic and signal information from the battlefield. Or at least, that was the plan.
Had Nishant worked out, the Indian Army would have bought a total of twelve and sent them to disputed Kashmir region and to track Maoist rebels in India’s interior.
But it was not to be. The four prototype Nishants entered service in 2011, and then started falling — not floating — out of the sky. The first two went down near the Pakistani border in April 2015. The third Nishant crashed in Rajasthan in early November.
There was only one left … and that crashed on Nov. 19.
The cause of the last crash appeared to be a parachute which failed to properly deploy.
“In the past DRDO has blamed poor handling by the Army for the loss of at least two systems,” the Economic Times reported. “However, the Army has contended that the system has failed to perform and has technical problems during the recovery phase that have not been sorted out.”
To the Army’s credit, it already operates dozens of Israeli drones with no apparent troubles. Retired Lt. Gen. P.C. Katoch, who led the Indian Army’s information systems directorate, blasted the DRDO for a “gross lack of accountability,” producing “schoolboy level” inventions and then bragging about its accomplishments with “false propaganda.”
“For their part, the DRDO in its usual manner has blamed the user for poor handling of the system, a point categorically denied by the Army,” Katoch wrote at SP’s Aviation magazine. “The irony is that this game has been [going] on for decades with no one held accountable in the DRDO.”
“The irony here is that while this monolith of DRDO cannot produce a worthwhile drone in 20 years, Pakistan has already developed and deployed its own armed drone.” Kaotch was referring to the Burraq drone, which Islamabad developed from the Chinese CH-3.
Nishant, however, is dead. With no more left and an obvious lack of faith in the drone, the Indian Army canceled the project for good.