SOURCE: ABHOY ROY / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
India’s quest to develop Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) started in early 90’s when India’s ADE (Aeronautical Development Establishment), a branch of DRDO was tasked to develop India’s first Nishant UAV based on India Army’s requirement for intelligence gathering platform over enemy territory, which had its first flight in 1995.
Exactly after a decade later, Indian army’s fleet of four home-grown Nishant UAV had suffered crashes and all were lost prompting Army to cancel any future plans to place any further orders for the Nishant UAV.
DRDO second attempts to develop a Medium Altitude Long Endurance unmanned air vehicle began soon after around 2003 with the development of Rustom-1 design based on Rutan Long-EZ Homebuilt aircraft developed by American based Rutan Aircraft Factory.
Rustom-1 was supposed to be Technology Demonstrator platform upon which India had plans to develop a Larger UAV with a flight endurance of over 24 hours in Predator Class. Rustom-1 had its first flight in 2009 and soon there were reports that Indian Army and Indian Navy were interested in using them to replace older Israeli supplied Searcher reconnaissance UAVs.
But few years down the line both Indian Army and Indian Navy decided not to pursue the project any further due to the slow pace of development and lack of meaning full sensor package. Rustom-1 still remains a Technology Demonstrator platform for its larger sibling and there is little hope that it will ever make into full-scale production drone.
Tapas (BH-201 ) which was earlier known as Rustom-II made its first flight last year, but soon it was confirmed in media reports that the first prototype was soon pulled out of flight trials to address technical issues with the program. According to media reports, the first prototype was over-engineered and suffered from weight issues and required considerable re-engineering of turboprop engine section and to its wing section.
The second prototype of Tapas (BH-201 ) is still going through considerable weight reduction measures and is prepped for sensor and payload integration which has already seen delays its first flight planned for in mid of 2017.
DRDO in 2014 again tested for the first time Panchi which is a wheeled version of the Nishant unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) based on Army’s recommendation but it is still unclear if Army has made any requirement for Panchi UAV and it might also risk of heading dead end like Nishant.
The only project which seems to have got a considerable level of acceptance in Indian armed forces is light-weight Netra Quadcopter which DRDO developed with Mumbai-based IdeaForge and Indian Eagle mini-drone developed by HAL, along with Suchan developed by NAL , but a great deal of MALE and HALE Class UAV programs like Nishant, Panchi, Rustom-1, and Tapas have seen considerable delays in the program and there is no clear deadline when they will enter into production .
India still has a combined tri-service requirement for the acquisition of 150 medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAVs for which Request for Information already has been floated by India earlier this year But the Unfortunate truth is that India doesn’t only have troubles perfecting drone technology but is also facing serious delays in projects which are far from over and still continues to face a considerable amount of technological challenges that India is now risk falling behind countries in the region on drone technology.
A solution could be to encourage Private Defence companies in India to come with similar projects which can either help fast track this projects or help develop alternative platforms which can be used by our armed forces to truly make ” Make in India ” Initiative of PM Modi a Success.