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Sunday, April 14, 2024

India to Boost Domestic Drone Industry, Bans Chinese Components

In recent months, India has barred domestic manufacturers of military drones from using components made in China over concerns about security vulnerabilities. Security leaders are worried that intelligence-gathering could be compromised by China-made parts in drones’ communication functions, cameras, radio transmission, and operating software. The move comes amid tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors. New Delhi pursues a military modernization that envisages greater use of unmanned quadcopters, long-endurance systems, and other autonomous platforms.

India lacks the technological know-how to produce certain military drones, so it relies on foreign suppliers for parts and complete systems. The ban on Chinese components has raised the country’s cost of producing military drones.

Drones, also known as UAVs, have become increasingly integral to modern military operations, with many functions including reconnaissance, surveillance, intelligence collection, target identification, and even precision strikes. For this reason, they have been at the center of modernization efforts in many countries worldwide.

But India’s nascent drone industry has faced significant hurdles in developing its capabilities. For one, the armed forces need to be able to place orders for drones to give the start-ups enough money to carry out research and development, as well as scale up production and incorporate more indigenous components.

The government is trying to address this issue by prioritizing firms that successfully develop drones when it comes time for them to place their first orders. It is a welcome step, but more is needed to help the nascent sector become self-sufficient. The defense ministry’s penchant for banning companies at the drop of a hat without making alternate arrangements to fulfill voids in time is also debilitating to India’s drone-making capability.

The armed forces are now buying drones from international manufacturers, which has been a boon for foreign companies that have invested in setting up Indian facilities to manufacture their equipment. This will likely remain until India’s nascent drone-making companies can develop the technology required to compete globally.

The effort to reduce dependence on foreign vendors and build a domestic capability is particularly timely, given that China has made inroads into the market for military drones and other hardware used by the armed forces and in tender documents reviewed by Reuters, India’s military officials told potential bidders at two meetings in February and March that equipment or subcomponents from “countries sharing land borders with India” would not be acceptable for security reasons. One official described the reference as a euphemism for China. The military officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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