A day after the Pakistani Army released pictures recovered from a memory chip of a quadcopter which it said was flown by Indian agencies allegedly for espionage, the Mumbai-based company from whom the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was reportedly purchased has claimed that the Indian Army never bought it from them.
Amit Nichani, the owner of Ascom System Pvt Ltd, told The Indian Express Tuesday that since he was not a registered vendor with the Ministry of Defence, the claims by the Pakistani Army that it might have been purchased from Ascom did not hold ground. “The defence ministry purchases equipment only from its registered vendors. I am not on the vendors’ list of the Indian Army and therefore I have not sold any quadcopter, which the Pakistani Army claims to have shot down on July 15 on suspicion of spying on its soil,” he said. “These quadcopters are easily available on online shopping portals and could have been ordered from there,” Nichani added.
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The pictures released by Pakistan show the wreckage of Phantom 3, a quadcopter manufactured by DJI. While the craft has been claimed to be brought down on July 15, the pictures from the memory chip recovered from the craft were released on Monday when Gurdaspur witnessed a terror attack suspected to have been carried out by the Lashkar-E-Taiba. Ascom is the one of the two registered vendors of DJI in India. “While there are over 500 dealers selling Phantom 3, we are a registered dealer and therefore dragging our name adds more authenticity to their claims,” said Nichani.
“Reading data from a memory card does not require forensic expertise. If the data were genuine, they could have provided it on the day the quadcopter was shot down. Why has the Pakistan Army taken 10 days to retrieve or read data from a memory chip,” he asked.
Nichani said he felt it was a “cooked up story to divert attention from Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Punjab yesterday”. “Why have they revealed the pictures on the same day of Punjab terrorist attack. There is a possibility that the quadcopter could had been purchased by Pakistani authorities through their authorised dealers and flown by them over the Indian side,” Amit said.
DJI also has two registered vendors in Pakistan.
On the issue of one of the pictures showing his Sakinaka office, Nichani said it could have been picked up from the company’s website. “In the gallery section of the website, there are a few pictures of the office. The picture shared by the Pakistani authorities could have been picked up from there,” he said.
A staff member at Ascom told The Indian Express that the man visible in the picture was a client but they had not been able to locate him. “We don’t have a CCTV camera inside our office and therefore are not able to ascertain when he visited our office. We have seen him a couple of times but since we are not able to locate his KYCs, we are not able to locate him,” said the employee who did not want to be named.
Nichani also claimed that quadcopters were not for military application. “Though GPS-enabled, a quadcopter is a manual craft and its movements have to be regulated by a joystick. The GPS is to facilitate the craft to ‘hold’ a position in case the connection between the craft and the remote is lost. Also, in case the wind conditions are very strong, a GPS-enabled quadcopter adjusts its four wheels and remains stoic at a position till the time the flyer gives a command as to which direction it should fly,” he demonstrated using a Phantom 3 quadcopter.
“The craft can fly only for 15 minutes and can cover a radius of 600 metres. The 15 minutes are divided into two halves with the craft set to return to the home position. The aircraft does not have flying capacity required by defence agencies,” said Nichani.
While the use of unmanned flying objects is banned in the country, its sale has not been regulated. A public notice issued by the Director General of Civil Aviation in October 2014 reads, “DGCA is in the process of formulating the regulations (and globally harmonize those) for certification & operation for use of UAS in the Indian Civil Airspace. Till such regulations are issued, no non government agency, organisation, or an individual will launch a UAS in Indian Civil Airspace for any purpose whatsoever.”