MoD and DMA 101 items embargo to boost Indian drone industry

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Department of Military Affairs (DMA), after consultation with pertinent stakeholders, have formulated an import embargo on 101 defence items/equipment to be undertaken over 5 years. This is a momentous step, which would further strengthen India’s burgeoning drone industry.

ideaForge, the largest indigenous drones manufacturer, has been a flag bearer for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ for over a decade. There are no two ways about it; the defence import-embargo is a move in the positive direction to:

  1.     Become independent in terms of military tech and equipment development/procurement
  2.     Boost long-term indigenous defence technology (developing an intelligence and military edge)

What happened before MoD’s 101 defence items embargo?

India has always been a large military spender. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report, India is the 3rd largest military spender in the world. India’s military spend stood at $71.1 billion in 2019. The military spend has grown 259% over 1990-2019. This military spend grew 37% across 2010-19.

Let’s build a bit more context around these numbers. India is also the 2nd largest arms and defence equipment importer (9.2% global imports share) after Saudi Arabia (calculated over 2014-19). It’s important to note that this is 32% lesser than the imports share over 2010-14.

On the other hand, India stands at the 23rd position of global arms exporters. This trade gulf puts the country’s sovereignty at risk. First, it puts a heavy strain on the country’s prosperity (Forex drain). Second, the increased dependence on foreign defence technology compromises long-term military evolution.

Why MoD’s embargo would boost Drone and other industries

‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ has been in the making for a long time. Its roots were set within the ‘Make in India’ initiative. Back in Feb 2020, Prime Minister, Shri. Narendra Modi spoke at the DefExpo 2020. He proclaimed that over the next 5 years, India’s defence exports would reach $5 billion.

This embargo steps in line with his proclamation. On May 12th 2020, he further emphasized the 5 pillars of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ – Economy, Infrastructure, System, Demography and Demand. The embargo would help strengthen the defence tech and manufacturing infrastructure while inducing demand for indigenous equipment.

This demand is conducive for the development of defence tech within our country. Let’s consider ideaForge as a yardstick. It is the largest drone manufacturer in India, and a strong proponent of building its drone, from the ground-up, within the country. All of its drones, especially the pioneering fixed-wing mini UAV – ‘SWITCH’, have become a recurring element in multiple initiatives like:

  •       intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR)
  •       homeland security
  •       disaster management
  •       public safety, crowd and traffic management
  •       Covid-19 protocol-enablement
  •       enterprise security, surveillance, mapping, and inspection requirements, etc.

The enhanced demand would incentivize defence sectors to continue to back Indian industrial output. Here are some stats-snapshots of the drone and other industries in terms of overall defence procurement.

  •       According to FICCI and EY, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry would reach $885.7 million by 2021 (4).
  •       MoD has signed more than 180 ‘defence’ contracts with multiple Indian companies since 2014. These contracts stand at $25 billion+ in value.
  •       The government has been steadily building towards this step. 1/3rd to 1/4th of the $62.85 billion defence budget of FY20-21 goes towards capital expenditure.
  •       The government is set to spend more than $130 billion for modernization of its military (2nd largest in the world).

Indigenous drone tech to modernize and strengthen ISR and homeland security

The embargo would take shape over the 5 years. However, ideaForge drones have been the premium UAV-choice for military and enterprise requirements for quite some time. There’s a reason why the Indian drone industry has seen a steady rise over the years.

The defence industry has been looking to small, micro and mini drones to give them necessary situational awareness across operations.

  •       Drone-led surveying and mapping have been instrumental in creating 3D-terrain maps, visual and thermographic. These survey-grade all-terrain drones provide live and actionable insights. Soldiers can spot fine changes in the terrain (suspicious tunnelling, movement, etc.) and act accordingly.
  •       Drone-enabled beat patrolling helps add another dimension to regular surveillance along critical zones like the Line of Control (LoC). UAVs give a 360-degree high-resolution aerial view of the entire area within moments. They are a huge step-up from stationary CCTV cameras and motion sensors. Furthermore, they help safeguard the lives of scouts.
  •       Drones help with building sustainable counter-intelligence. ideaForge’s multifactorial drones help easily spot insurgents and infiltration. The armed forces can nip these cases in the bud to prevent the development of future terror hubs.
  •       The drones offer a massive booster to live operational reconnaissance. ideaForge drones provide day/night intelligence and reconnaissance to fulfil mission-critical objectives. They can stealthily identify targets and vehicles to give the on-ground officers the necessary operational edge.
  •       Drone-led search and rescue have been a quintessential element of disaster relief and management. The UAV’s far-reaching live visuals help quickly identify survivors. It also helps in planning the actual rescue operation.

The 101 defence items embargo sets in motion the business-end of a long-drawn strategy to transform the Indian military. It looks to make the defence industry independent, built with indigenous tech, and turn it into a dominant force. ideaForge has, since its inception, pledged its expertise in line of the same belief and vision. This alignment also bodes well for the Indian drone industry as a whole. It’s just the beginning of a promise. It’s time to deliver.

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