DRDO launched the Rs 90 crore Nishant UAV project in 1995. India has been engaged in indigenous development of UAV technology. It has completed work on the Nishant, a remotely piloted vehicle for battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance. A mini-UAV for reconnaissance, called Kapothaka and a pilotless target aircraft called Lakshua, have also been developed.
The tactical highlights of NISHANT include multi-mission day/night capability using advance payloads, jam resistant command link and digital down link. It is a highly mobile, compact and easily deployable system and can undertake day/night battle field reconnaissance, surveillance, target tracking and localization. It can also help in correction of artillery fire. With an endurance capacity of 4 hours and 30 minutes, it can attain maximum speed of 185 km per hour.
Nishant (which means 'end of darkness', or Restless), the Remotely Piloted Vehicle conceived, designed and developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment, is used for reconnaissance, target acquisition, target designation, damage assessment and electronic surveillance. Nishant, also known as pilotless training aircraft, is designed to perform discrete aerial reconnaissance, including target acquisition. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which has developed Nishant, has designed comprehensive capabilities in all aspects of flight control design and engineering for UAVs. Work is being carried out at the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) in Bangalore, an establishment of the DRDO.
Nishant is a field mobile system comprising air vehicles, ground control station, antenna tracking system, launcher and mission support vehicles. It meets the battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance needs of Indian Army. Each air vehicle carries a stabilized steerable platform with electro-optic payloads for surveillance, target acquisition and target tracking.
To meet the Army's operational requirement of an RPV it was decided in September 1988 that Defence Research and Development Organisation would undertake the indigenous development of the RPV. The General Staff Qualitative Requirement (GSQR) was finalised by the Army in May 1990. In October 1991 Government sanctioned the project covering the design and development of RPV at a cost of Rs 34 crore (FE Rs 8 crore).
The Nishant remotely piloted vehicle [RPV] has undergone test flights at Kolar in Karnataka. The Nishant unmanned air vehicle has a range of at least 100 km. The 360 kg vehicle is designed for electronic intelligence and electro-optic reconnaissance for the Indian Army. Flying at 40 to 60 meters per second, Nishant is capable of battlefield surveillance with data sent in real time. The Aeronautics Development Establishment under the DRDO [Defense Research and Development Organization] is the lead laboratory for the Nishant's development and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is the production agency.
A single LRU integrated avionics package (IAP) has been developed to perform flight control, navigation and mission functions of Nishant aircraft. It consists of onboard encoder/decoder, GPS, flight control, mission and navigation modules. The digital flight control function is backed up by an analog stand-by module. IAP also manages automated safe launch, in-flight programmable way point navigation, and operation of payloads. It has been proven in more than 20 test flights of Nishant.
These development trials revealed deficiencies in minimum speed and endurance. More flights were planned in view of the technological problems encountered. Accordingly, a fully integrated prototype had yet to be made available to the users for their full fledged evaluation as of 1998.
Several configurations of ground stations have been developed for UAV programs to meet diverse needs of aerial targets and reconnaissance missions. Integrated telemetry, telecommand and tracking system designs have been realised. The mobile ground control station (GCS) incorporates a microprocessor-based encoder/decoder unit which interfaces with the jam-resistant data link to exchange command and data from Nishant. The air vehicle controller and the payload operator are provided with cues in the form of synthetic electronic displays which provide flight and trajectory data. A digital map display using GIS technology aids the controller to fly the UAV.
The Nishant RPV made its first test flight in 1995 and was scheduled to be inducted into the army by late 1996/97. However, production delays and technical snags led the army to look to Israeli-built Searchers to compensate for the delays. The indigenous development of two systems of the payload was yet to be taken up as of 1998. The import of forward looking infrared was delayed by six years on account of delays in the development of the gimbald payload assembly. The import option in respect of the infra red line scan was still under study.
Payload to be made available included forward looking infra red (FLIR) and infra red line scan (IRLS). The FLIR was to be mounted on gimbald payload assembly (GPA). As per the original projections, three sets each of FLIR and IRLS were to be imported in 1991 at an estimated cost of Rs 20 lakh and Rs 18 lakh respectively. Subsequently, these were to be replaced by indigenous version to be developed by a Defence research and development laboratory (R&D Lab). However, the indigenous development projects had not been entrusted to this R&D Lab as of November 1997. The DRDO stated in November 1997 that the indigenous development was proposed to be taken up only after necessary competence was built up.
A 35 mm Mini Pan Camera has been designed and developed at the CSIO, Chandigarh, which is suitable for use in low-speed aircraft operating at a low altitude, during daylight conditions. The Camera works on the principle of rotating mirror-lens-slit combination and moving film, resulting in recording of a much wider swath of the ground compared to frame strip camera. The design and development of this camera for Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) was sponsored by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), Bangalore. Three units of the camera have since been developed and submitted to ADE. The units were successfully interfaced with main Payload Interface Unit and subjected to prelaid environmental tests prescribed for Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV). One unit was mounted on `Nishant 3-4' and its performance during the flight trials was found to be satisfactory.
Two FLIRs were imported from Israel in May 1997 at a unit cost of Rs 82.50 lakh. The delay of six years in import of FLIR was stated to be due to delay in development of GPA based on which the FLIR requirements were to be finalised. The import of IRLS had not been finalised till June 1997 as the import options were still under study.
The development and evaluation under this project were planned in two standards i.e. MK-I and MK-II, in response to the priorities of operational roles indicated by the user. The MK-I standard was meant for priority operational roles such as day/night surveillance, reconnaissance and identification of targets for long range weapons. It was to be launched by Rocket Assisted Launcher (RAL) and recovered by Parachute System. The payloads include Day Light TV (DLTV) Laser Range Finder (LRF) and Mini Panoramic Camera. The MK-II standard was to be designed with enhanced capabilities such as Hydro Pneumatic Launcher (HPL) instead of RAL, Net Recovery System and additional Payloads such as Forwards Looking Infra Red (FLIR), Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), Communication Intelligence (COMINT), Laser Range Designator (LRD) and Infra Red Line Scan (IRLS).
In July 1999, for the first time the Indian army deployed its new Nishant UAV system in the fight against guerilla forces backed by Pakistan in Kashmir. Nishant, which had been developed for battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance needs of the Indian Army, was test flown again in early 2002. The Nishant was still in trials before its induction into the Army. The army was presently using Israeli-made Searcher UAVs. The unduly long delay in the development of the Nishant forced the Indian army to sign a deal with Israel for the acquisition of the highly versatile Searcher-II Unmanned aircraft.
The country’s premier agency in the aviation sector, Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) handed over NISHANT, it’s first indigenously made Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to Indian Army, in early 2009. NISHANT, which means ‘end of darkness’ is a tactical UAV and can be employed in tactical areas in a local domain. “The limited series production is specially prepared for Indian Army as per their requirements. The confirmatory trials of NISHANT are planned and it was ready for delivery”, Project Director, ADE, Shri G Srinivasa Murthy said 12-February, 2009.
Panchi, the wheeled version of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)Nishant capable of taking-off and landing using small airstrips had its maiden flight lasting about 20 minutes. The 24-December-2014 flight was preceded by a series of high speed taxi trials. SA to RM, Secretary. Department of Defence R&D & DG DRDO DrAvinashChander, congratulated the team for the success. The UAV Panchi has all the surveillance capabilities of UAV Nishant. However, it will have longer endurance as it does not have to carry the air bags and parachute system as in the case of UAV Nishant. DS and DG Aeronautical Systems Dr K Tamilmani said, “Aggressive efforts by the ADE (Aeronautical Development Establishment) team during the past 8 months in creating this version are commendable”.
The conventional Nishant UAV is a multi-mission UAV with Day/Night operational capability, launched from an all-terrain hydro-pneumatic launcher and is recovered with the help of on board parachute system and an underbelly airbag. It is designed for battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance, target tracking& localization, and artillery fire correction. The electro-optic payloads are mounted on a stabilized steerable platform. A sophisticated image processing system is used for analyzing the images transmitted from the UAV. The aircraft has a jam resistant command link and digital down link for transmission of imagery. The air vehicle has autonomous flight capabilities and is controlled from a user friendly Ground Control Station.
In November 2015 the Army was set to cancel any further induction of the Nishant surveillance UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) developed by the DRDO after yet another of the drones crashed in the deserts of Rajasthan on 19 Nvember 2015. With all four Nishant drones supplied to the Army in May 2013 for "user exploitation" having crashed, the last two within a fortnight, the Army put on hold the Phase-II induction of eight more such drones.
The Army told DRDO that it would not need any additional Nishant systems, junking phase II of the program under which eight more UAVs were to be delivered. The first phase of the programme cost Rs 90 cr. "The user has stated that there is no requirement of additional Nishant UAV systems, therefore the phase 2 of the project is closed and no more funds are going to come for this project," a letter sent to the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) by DRDO headquarters reads. DRDO was hopeful of selling eight more aircraft and two more ground systems to the Army. With the cancellation of the order it will now have to write off at least Rs 5 cr of the development costs that it overspent.
A blame game emerged between the DRDO and the Army over the crashes. In the past DRDO blamed poor handling by the army for the loss of at least two systems. The army contended that the system had failed to perform and has technical problems during the recovery phase that had not been sorted out.
By 2015 the armed forces had well over 200 drones, with the bulk of them being inducted from Israel since the 1999 Kargil conflict. Apart from the Israeli Searcher-II and Heron drones for long-range surveillance and precision-targeting, the IAF also had the Israeli Harop "killer drones" that detect and then hit specific targets and radars in Kamikaze mode.
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