India is among the largest importers of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, in the world. So far a bulk of the buying has been from Israeli, Chinese, Korean, US and European companies, with negligible purchases from trusted partner Russia. But that is set to change.
A new Indo-Russian joint venture — Elcomponics Aerob Technologies India — is planning to manufacture multi-purpose UAVs, or drones, here with Russian design and technology. And what’s more, the drones will be made here in India, bringing down costs significantly.
The Noida-based joint-venture was formed in 2016 by Russia’s Aerob, a startup based in Skolkovo Innovation Center near Moscow, and India’s EL Componics, a component manufacturer for automotive electronics, and solar industries.
India is the first foreign market for the Russian start-up, while for EL Componics this is the first foray into the UAV market. In India, the Aerob UAVs will be sold under Pavansut brand. The joint venture is planning to market several types of drones: Pavansut 5AT, a light-weight copter UAV; Pavansut BH, a solar UAV designed for search and rescue and infrastructure surveillance; and the multi-purpose Pavansut 30VR UAV (known as Aerob 4D globally).
But it is the Pavansut 30VR UAV that the Indo-Russian venture is betting on: the mid-range fixed wing UAV weighing just 30 kg can fly for 10 hours with maximum flight range of 1,200 km one-way at heights ranging 300 ft-12,000 feet.
Ideal for surveillance ::
The UAV has a 120 km/h cruising speed which makes it useful for surveillance of large infrastructure projects like oil and gas pipelines, electric power lines, highways, rail roads, sea and land borders. The drone can carry various types of payload, from HD photo and video cameras to laser scanners and radars with up to 8 kg weight.
“We are mainly targeting the defence and the military sector for the Pavansut 30VR and are in discussions with DRDO and BSF,” S N Dwivedi, Managing Director of Elcomponics Group, told BusinessLine.
New facility ::
Elcomponics-Aerob’s facility in Noida will produce 5-8 UAVs per month in the first year of operations. However, the company is caught in Red Tape and is trying to get a licence for manufacturing the UAVs from DIPP. “The delay in getting an industrial license is a challenge to start the business operations,” Dwivedi said.
The licence to manufacture drones in India has so far been granted to 17 Indian companies including BHEL, Ashok Layland, and Dynamic Technology.
Igor Kuznetsov, CTO of Elcomponics-Aerob, told BusinessLine that the JV will first start semi-knocked-down assembly in India and move towards localising up to 80 per cent of the components. “We will bring our own composites manufacturing technology to India as well, since in Russia all our needs for composite materials used in making of UAVs are satisfied by our own facilities.”
Russian Aerob decided to localise manufacturing after it realised the difficulties of importing readymade UAVs to India. “ At the same time, manufacturing in India will allow us to price the drones 20 per cent less than in Russia,” Kuznetsov said.
Growing market ::
The global UAV drones market is expected to increase to $21.23 billion by 2022, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets. The commercial UAV segment accounts for a small share of the total and may reach $2.07 billion by 2022, Grand View Research, a US-based market research and consulting company estimates.
EY’s “Eye on defence” report notes that till date India has bought UAV platforms worth about $1.5 billion (₹8,350 crore in 2012 exchange rate). Q-Tech Synergy expects the market to reach $5 billion by 2027.
Lt Cdr John Livingstone (Retd), the Founder CEO and Product Architect of Johnnette Technologies, one of the pioneers of the country’s UAV industry, estimates Indian UAV market to reach around $3 billion (₹20,000 crore) in the next 10 years.
Stiff competition ::
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a global think-tank, said in the past two decades India has emerged as the largest importer of UAVs with a 22.5 per cent share in global imports, although between 2010 and 2014, UK replaced India as the top importer of UAVs.
Israel has been the major supplier of UAVs to India as well as globally accounting for 60.7 per cent of world’s exports of UAVs. The Indian government have approved a new purchase of 10 armed Herons worth $400 million in 2015. Israeli companies are also looking at localising manufacturing of UAVs here: in February, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Bangalore-based Dynamatic Technologies Ltd (DTL) signed a cooperation agreement for the production of mini UAVs in India, while last year Adani Enterprises entered into JV with Israel’s Elbit Systems for the manufacturing of UAVs in Ahmedabad.
The cost factor will be the major advantage of Elcomponics Aerob’s UAVs. According to Kuznetsov, the Pavansut 30VR drone may cost only a third as much as the Israeli machines.
Chinese, Korean, US and European companies dominate India’s commercial drone market. There are around 30 Indian start-ups manufacturing various UAVs. The market share of India-made UAVs is currently 20-25 per cent, Livingstone said, with the majority of indigenous drones supplied to government organisations, armed forces and police rather than being used for commercial purposes.