India recently has barred domestic manufacturers of military drones from using components made in China over concerns about security vulnerabilities.
The measure comes amid tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours and as New Delhi aspires to modernise its armed forces with India-made drones and other high-tech platforms.
But as the nascent Indian industry looks to meet the military’s needs, the defence and industry figures said India’s security leaders were worried that intelligence-gathering could be compromised by Chinese-made parts in drones’ communication functions, cameras, radio transmission and operating software.
India’s approach complements phased import restrictions on surveillance drones since 2020 and is being implemented through military tenders, documents show.
A senior defence official told publicly that Indian industry had become dependent on the world’s second-largest economy despite concern about cyberattacks.
Beijing has denied involvement in cyberattacks. China’s commerce ministry announced last week some drone-related equipment export controls, while the U.S. Congress in 2019 banned the Pentagon from buying or using drones and components made in China.
India has set aside $19.77 billion for military modernisation in 2023-24, of which 75% is reserved for domestic industry.
But the ban on Chinese parts has raised the cost of making military drones locally by forcing manufacturers to source components elsewhere, government and industry experts said.
Sameer Joshi, founder of NewSpace Research and Technologies, a supplier of small drones for India’s military, said 70% of goods in the supply chain were made in China.
India relies on foreign manufacturers for both parts and entire systems as it lacks the know-how to make certain types of drones.
A government-funded program to produce an indigenous Medium Altitude Long Endurance unmanned system is delayed by at least half a decade, said Y. Dilip, director of the state-run Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE).
To fill these gaps, India will buy 31 MQ-9 drones from the U.S. for over $3 billion.
However, India is ambitious aiming to develop its domestic drone production. It is expected to reach a value of $10 billion by 2026, and to create over 100,000 jobs in the next five years.
Source: Reuters, grdiplomatic.com