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Support Capability development

The latest policy of the Indian government banning the import of drones, except for the purposes of R&D, defence and security, has been formulated to support and develop drone manufacturing capability in India.

Issue: 06-2022By Air Marshal B.K. PandeyPhoto(s): By Draganfly.COM

As per reports in the media, in early February this year, the Government of India issued formal instructions to prohibit the import of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also referred to as “Drones”, into the country with immediate effect. However, there are a few agencies in the country that will still be permitted to import Drones in Complete Built-Up (CBU), Semi Knocked Down (SKD) or Completely Knocked Down (CKD) form. The agencies that are exempt are entities under the Government, educational institutions recognised by central or state government, organisations and agencies undertaking manufacturing of Drones for Research and Development.

Apparently, this decision by the Government to ban the import of Drones has been taken for a specific purpose. This initiative by the Government is an attempt to promote its ‘Make in India’ programme to cover the domain of Drones. This indeed is a major exercise initiated by the Government at the national level to benefit the domestic industry engaged in the development and manufacture of Drones within the country. The justification given by the Government of India for this decision is that it will help the domestic segment of this industry in a number of ways for the development and growth of this sector dealing with unmanned aerial vehicles. Firstly, it will attract and facilitate investments both from investors and entrepreneurs within India as also from foreign countries to benefit this particular manufacturing sector in a number of ways. Secondly, it will boost the effort by the indigenous industry at skill development, protect intellectual property rights as well as develop a world class infrastructure for the manufacture of products in this category within the country. Undoubtedly, India will face the challenges of a stiff competition with China at the global level if she decides to venture into this segment of the industry.

The development related to the prohibition of import of UAVs comes close on the heels of the Drone Rules, 2021 that were notified on August 25, 2021. The New Rules significantly liberalised the Drone regime in India, including removing restrictions on foreign entities from owning, manufacturing and operating Drones in India. As per the previous Indian Trade Classification issued by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), the import of Drones was restricted and required prior clearance of the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) along with an import license from the DGFT. Nano Drones that were meant to be operated below 15 metres above ground level, were exempted from this requirement and could be imported without an import licence.

Even before the implementation of the latest set of rules, the procurement and employment of Drones had already been subject to control and regulation by the Government through the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules that were put in place more than a year ago. However, the new rule also provides a number of relaxations in the import of these platforms albeit with prior clearance by the appropriate agency of the Government in all cases. Drones can be acquired from foreign sources as and when needed by the Indian Armed Forces or by other security agencies in India in the pursuit of the execution of their responsibilities related to the security of the nation. Drones can also be imported by the agencies of the Government outside the Ministry of Defence if and when required to carry out research and development as also for general educational purposes. Also, import by operators of this platform, of components that go to make up a Drone, shall not require any prior approval of the Government.

The industrial segment dealing with Drones definitely has some advantages for the national economy as well as the Government expects to generate investments of up to or more than 5,000 crore from the sector. The target set for the financial year 2023-2024, envisages the creation of more than 10,000 jobs in the sector within the country. To provide a significant boost to domestic production in this segment of the industry, the Government of India has announced a 120 crore Production Linked Incentive scheme that is aimed at boosting the manufacture of Drones within the country. This scheme of the Government of India will also be an incentive for foreign manufacturers to set up their business related to the Drone industry in India and boost the growth of the industry.

India needs to develop its manufacturing capabilities and needs the support of favourable Government policies. The move to ban the import of drones in India aims to promote Made in India drones. Last year, the Ministry notified liberalised drone rules that abolished a slew of approvals with the aim to encourage R&D and creating India as a drone hub. These are all good beginnings but Government must make sure that it continues to support the industry with liberalised policies and other incentives so that the drone industry in India can really develop rapidly for domestic usage and global exports. Also, they did the right thing by exempting import of drones for defence and security purposes as the current military requirements of drones cannot be met by domestic manufacturers.