"PANCHI" is wheeled version of DRDO's NISHANT Drone

by Vijay Mohan

As unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) assume increasing significance for both combat as well as surveillance roles, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has initiated the process of procuring such systems from indigenous sources.

The MoD wants a common medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) platform that can be used by all three services, though some features could be adapted or modified to meet the specific operational requirements of the Army, Navy or Air Force. A request for information issued by the MoD indicates that the services need 150 new MALE UAVs. These are proposed to be developed and manufactured by the Indian industry based on proven technologies where fundamental research is not required.

Low radar, thermal and acoustics signature, capability to operate between minus 40 to 55 degrees Celsius, altitude ceiling above 30,000 feet with more than 25 hours of endurance, a satellite-based navigational system, automatic take off and landing capability and an automatic identification system to identify merchant ships along with its cargo are key features required for the proposed UAVs.

The Indian Armed Forces began inducting UAVs in 2000 and at present, more than 200 such systems are in service. These are primarily Israeli-made Heron and Searcher UAVs along with a handful of DRDO-made Nishant UAVs. An upgraded version of Nishant, called Panchi, and an armed drone, Rustom, are being test evaluated by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). There were also some reports of India procuring the armed version of Heron from Israel.