Drones are creating headlines in the technology and aviation industry of India right now. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has released Drone Rules, 2021. These are more liberalised rules when compared to previous drone policies in the country. The sector is also expected to see rapid growth in the coming few years. To put it plainly, the new set of rules have eased out owning and operating drones in India.
On 15th September 2021, the Union Cabinet also cleared the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme that shall provide incentives up to 20% to the manufacturers of drones and drone components over the value addition that they make. The annual sales revenue (net of GST) minus the purchase cost (net of GST) of the manufactured drone and drone components would be used to compute this value addition.
The government also announced that it has allocated a sum of ₹120 crores for the PLI scheme that will be spread over a period of 3 years. The 3 year constant PLI rate of 20% for the drone industry is an exception to the PLI rates, which usually keep reducing every year. Apart from manufacturers of drones and drone components, the scheme shall also include drone-related IT products.
This announcement was preceded by the aviation ministry announcing the conditional permission granted to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to use drones to deliver COVID-19 vaccines in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Nagaland and Manipur, beyond the visual line of sight (up to the height of 3,000 metres). Telangana became the first state to launch the Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLoS) flights through its project ‘Medicine from the Sky’ to deliver COVID-19 vaccines, units of blood and medicines.
While the predicted boom in the drone industry might seem exciting to potential investors and manufacturers, a huge security threat concerns the defence forces of the country. India’s borders and hinterland continue to be vulnerable and have already seen an increase in the threat posed by drone warfare. The recent drone attack on Jammu air force station became a security concern, indicating the need for India to be prepared with sophisticated anti-drone mechanisms and suitable policies to manage a potential crisis caused by drone warfare.
It is believed that the Drone Rules, 2021 shall aid the government to be prepared with indigenously-developed Counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems (CUAS), the process and contracting out for which has already begun. These anti-drone systems will have critical soft and hard kill capabilities. A soft kill renders an incoming drone ineffective by jamming it, whereas a hard kill destroys the drone with a direct hit. Indian Army, Navy and Airforce have all given out contracts for suitable anti-drone systems to be created for use.
The PLI scheme and liberalised Drone Rules are hoped to cater to the growing commercial and defense demands in the country for drone and drone related products, both hardware and software. The division of zones and respective guidelines to operate drones in the same, will ensure, to an extent, that the drones operating in such areas do not obstruct operations of the airports and do not pose security threats. However, India may need to monitor the situation closely and be ready to balance its drone rules with respect to drone usage for commercial, leisure and security purposes. The shift from restrictive drone rules in India for the past few decades to the now newly liberalised rules of 2021, combined with the increase in drone attacks across the borders of the country, puts India in the limelight as the world waits to see how the situation unfolds for the subcontinent over the next few years.
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The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.