The Indian Army has ordered 12 Nishant unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in a limited-series production for an indigenous program nearly a decade behind schedule.
A Defence Ministry official said the order was placed the week of Nov. 15 with the state-owned Aeronautical Development Agency (ADE), Bangalore. The agency, India’s only UAV development laboratory, is part of the state’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
One Nishant UAV will cost about $3.5 million, compared with $7.5 million for an Israeli-made Heron, a DRDO scientist said. Due to the Nishant’s delay, the Army has purchased about 150 UAVs from Israel, including Searcher-1, Searcher-2 and Heron.
The deal calls for four Nishant UAVs and ground support equipment to be delivered by the end of 2006, with payment for the eight remaining systems to come only after the delivery of the first four, the Defence Ministry official said.
The Nishant UAV project was sanctioned by the ministry in October 1991 with an estimated completion date of April 1995. The ADE made five prototypes and tested them in 2001-2002.
The Army plans to use the UAVs for surveillance in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, an Army official said.
Despite the limited series production of the Nishant, the Defence Ministry will continue to buy short-range UAVs from overseas markets.
“Israel will continue to remain the mainstay of supply of UAVs for the Indian defense forces, as the DRDO has still to prove its mark in this area,” the Defence Ministry official said.
The DRDO scientist said problems in the Nishant UAV have been rectified with the help of Israeli scientists. He would not detail those problems.
The Defence Ministry official confirmed the UAV had some problems in the airframe and the landings were not smooth, but added the Nishant now meets the Army’s requirements.
The Nishant can fly at a height of 12,000 feet, has an endurance of four and a half hours, and a range of 100 kilometers with a payload of 45 kilograms, the scientist said.
It is a mobile system comprising air vehicles, ground control station, antenna tracking system, launcher and mission support vehicles. Each air vehicle carries a stabilized steerable platform with electro-optic payloads for surveillance, target acquisition and target tracking, the scientist said.
The 360-kilogram vehicle is designed for electronic intelligence and electro-optic reconnaissance and can fly at 40 to 60 meters per second. It also can send instantaneous data and the digital flight control function is backed by an analog stand-by module. The Nishant can be catapult-mounted on a 14-ton truck and lands using a parachute and airbag.