Representational image of a drone | Photo: Mark Kauzlarich | Bloomberg
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New Delhi: With a fast-growing sector for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), India is estimated to develop a multibillion-dollar industry of drones in the next decade, ThePrint has learnt.

According to global market intelligence and advisory firm BIS Research, the global drone market, which is currently dominated by US, China and Israel, will touch $28.47 billion this year and India will comprise about 4.25 per cent of that.

Consequently, the Indian drone market is expected to reach $1.21 billion in 2021.

In an emailed response to ThePrint, BIS Research cited many factors for the growth of the Indian drone market including the draft Drone Rules 2021, which were released last week by the civil aviation ministry, and the rising number of drone training institutes in India.

These institutes, the firm noted, have resulted in a growing number of Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) and certified drone pilots.

“Certified drone pilots will be more than 5,000 (including commercial & military) by 2025 in India due to easing of drone regulation by DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation),” it said.

Rajan Luthra, chair of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) Committee on Drones, meanwhile, said that 2022 will be the year that the country will witness widespread usage of drones.

“2022 will be the year in which the hockey-stick upcurve in large scale usage of drones in India will happen, upon the strong foundation of the Drones Rules 2021, the UTM policy (a draft policy for UAV Traffic Management (UTM) Ecosystem) and more,” Luthra told ThePrint.


Also read: India needs to shop for anti-drone systems. And we are already late


Draft policy on drones

While the drones industry is still relatively nascent, the government has released draft rules to regulate it.

On 15 July, the Ministry of Civil Aviation released a draft policy for drones, titled ‘Drone Rules 2021’, which reduces the number of approvals required by applicants, introduces more safety measures and envisions a trade body for drones.

According to industry experts, this draft policy is likely to streamline the unmanned aviation sector.

“The proposed draft Drone Rules and other policies like the Guidelines for Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Services released by the Survey of India in February 2021 will truly unleash the advantages of remotely piloted aircraft systems,” Manavendra Prasad, director of operations at Av Tech Forum of India (ATFI), an industry organisation, told ThePrint. 

In India, drones have been used in agriculture, national highway mapping, railway track mapping, forest monitoring and surveillance.

They have also been used in a pilot project under the SVAMITVA (Survey of Villages and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas) scheme, which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April 2020.

Under this scheme, drones were used to map and survey rural lands across nine states — Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan.

“This scheme has elaborated the usage of drones and created more job opportunities for skilled pilots,” Abhinav Rao Varrey, an associate of business development and communications at drone manufacturer Johnnette Technologies, told ThePrint.

A study by FICCI and Ernst & Young, released in 2018, had noted that companies need to invest more to meet the increasing demand of UAVs in India and the push has to come from both the government and the private industry.

The report, titled ‘Make In India for Umanned Aircraft Systems’, added that the government should also attract and promote foreign direct investment in order to supplement domestic capital, technology and skills, for accelerated economic growth.

“Government has taken a good step towards legalizing the civil use of drones (in 2018) but to make it an attractive destination for FDI they should revisit the FDI regulation and sectoral cap for civilian drones. Relaxations of FDI regulations coupled with legalization of drones in India, is likely to record heavy foreign investment in the drones industry,” it said.

The latest drone rules seek to ease the entry of foreign manufacturers into the market, unlike its predecessor. According to Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, opening up to foreign companies will help make India a “drone hub”.


Also read: More safety measures, fewer approvals — what govt’s new draft policy for drones offers


Weaponised drones and counter-drone market in India

Last month, India witnessed a first-of-its-kind terror attack that was carried out by drones. Two drones released explosives over the Air Force Station in Jammu, mildly injuring two personnel.

In February this year, Rakesh Asthana, director-general of the Border Security Force (BSF), said that in 2019, there were 167 recorded sightings of drones in the Western Front and 77 sightings in 2020.

“There have been instances of dropping off arms and ammunition as well as narcotics through drones, particularly in the Punjab and the Jammu sector,” he said.

Currently, India is the third-largest importer of (military grade) drones, with a 6.8 per cent share of the total UAV transfers or deliveries reported across the globe in 2020, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRIs) Arms Transfers database.

And after the attack, it is looking to develop the drone and counter-drone market further.

“India too is planning to import drones that have not just Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities but also drones that can carry out precision strikes on enemy targets with stand-off missiles,” noted a research report by Noida-based drone manufacturer Johnnette Technologies.

India’s drone and counter-drone market potential up to 2030 will be about $40 billion, with Defence and Homeland Security accounting for 50 per cent of it, according to FICCI.


Also Read: 2 drones, 2 kinds of IEDs, separate strikes — How Jammu air force station attack was planned


 

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