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With Nishant UAV, Another Indian Aviation Program Crashes Out

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DRDO's Two-Decade-Old Nishant UAV Programme Crashes; Indian Army Cancels Further Orders

(Source: Economic Times; published Nov 17, 2015)

NEW DELHI: A two-decade-old Rs 90 cr Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) programme has proved a dud, with the Indian Army shelving the system and cancelling any further orders after three of the four systems supplied by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) ended up in crashes. As a result, DRDO may need to write off a Rs 5 crore overspend it incurred on the project in the hope of recovering the money from the maintenance and servicing of the systems.

The Nishant UAV programme, which has been in the works since 1995, was launched with the aim of providing the Army with indigenous systems for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. While four of the UAVs were inducted in 2011 after a long delay, at least three are confirmed to have crashed. The last one went down on November 4 in Jaisalmer.

According to documents accessed by ET, the Army has now told DRDO that it will not need any additional Nishant systems, junking phase II of the programme 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.

While 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 is on between the DRDO and the Army over the three crashes. In the past DRDO has blamed poor handling by the army for the loss of at least two systems.

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. The latest crash of the system took place with a DRDO operator present and was clearly due to the failure of the parachute recovery system that resulted in the loss of the Rs 22 cr aircraft, people familiar with the matter said.