India Wants to Become a Global Drone “Hub” by 2030

The world’s second most populous nation has ambitions of becoming  a global drone hub by the year 2030, according to a news report circulating on YouTube.  India’s drone market, estimated at just $839 million in value in 2020,  could rise to over $4 billion by 2026, sources interviewed for the report suggest.  The fastest growing sector of the drone market is expected to be farming, especially aerial mapping and fertilizer and pesticide spraying.  Other key growth sectors include national defense, border security and public health, sources say.

Currently, farmers in isolated rural areas in the south are using drones to spray pesticides on their farms, largely because of labor shortages and the time and cost savings involved.   A drone can spray an entire acre of farm property in just 15 minutes, a farmer interviewed in the report says.  With more accurate aerial surveying, drones can also allow farmers to calibrate their use of pesticides and other farm input to the areas most in need.   “With a drone, the farm needs half the amount of pesticides and there’s little waste,” the farmer says.

Other sources note that India’s drones are beginning to assist the mining and construction industries with workplace site and safety inspections.    Police are using drones to monitor traffic and border security forces have deployed- them to search for smugglers and traffickers.  The Indian army is experimenting with drones for land mine detection and removal.  According to industry observers, a key obstacle to India’s drone industry growth is its continuing dependence on foreign suppliers for drone components.  China, by far the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter of drones, also dominates the market for critical drone inputs, including batteries, motors and flight controllers.

In February 2022, as part of its larger “Made in India” planning initiative, India’s central government banned the import of foreign drones and created new incentives for the country’s firms to become drone manufacturers.  Neel Mehta, co-founder of Asteria Aerospace, has been building drones for 10 years. He says he welcomes the government’s efforts to boost indigenous manufacturing.

“Drone companies now have a clear growth roadmap, large order books and promising future trajectory. In India, we now have drones being used in real-world, impactful large-scale applications, while being economically viable,” Mehta told BBC News last November.  Mehta, who was recently appointed to head up a  national government drone planning committee, says India still needs to develop the infrastructure and regulatory framework to govern the development of a national drone industry that can truly compete on a world scale.

Rajiv Kumar Narang, head of the Drone Federation of India, urges caution in projecting rapid progress, noting that “at present we don’t not have an ecosystem and technology initiatives in place.”

“Initiatives have to come from the government. A single entity or a nodal ministry has to take this forward if we want to reach a goal of being the hub by 2030,” he told BBC News.

At present, India lacks a sufficient number of firms across different sectors to manufacture and assemble the components needed to make a drone.  Narang estimates that it could take 3 years of sustained government investment in R&D, plant construction and job training to create a viable drone manufacturing industry.  Mehta believes that with the proper incentives and guidelines, India could claim 25% of the global drone market in the next two decades.

The Indian government estimates that drones could boost the country’s manufacturing sector by $23 billion by 2030.  In the interim, with demand rising, some Indian farmers have begun purchasing drones to lease to their neighbors to generate additional farm income.  In addition, short-term job training programs, supported by state governments, are giving impoverished rural Indians an avenue for becoming drone pilots and technicians.

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