An Indian-built Nishant unmanned surveillance drone has crashed in Western India, the second crash involving the platform
in just over two weeks. As it turns out, the bird that went down today was the last of four units contracted by the Indian Army in 2011 -- the only operator at present. According to reports this week
, the programme is as good as dead now, with the Army also officially deciding not to purchase any more Nishant drones. The DRDO has attempted to push the rail-ramp launched drone to other services and the paramilitary, but with no success so far. Last year, it began testing a wheeled version
of the Nishant, designated Panchi near Bengaluru.
Like several other programmes involving the DRDO, the Nishant programme has been jinxed by a spiral of capability obsolescence, mutual stubbornness between the DRDO and customer services and a simple lack of coherent technology. This has been amplified by drones built by incubation companies at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), funded and brought to maturity by private firms, which either match or outclass the technologies that platforms like the Nishant boast of. The DRDO claims to work closely with the IITs on programmes, and does have collaborative projects in drone technology -- though most of these are highly undermatched against the simplest off-the-shelf drones available in recreational stores.
The Nishant was a low-cost project, or at least intended to be one. The Army pulling out from it leaves the project at starting point with a big write-off bill in the bargain.