Context: The Chief of Defence Staff recently ordered two studies to be conducted on major military platforms (unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and armoured helicopters) used by the three Services. The study on UAVs has been completed with a recommendation to acquire 31 MQ-9B high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) UAVs and 155 medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAVs.
What is Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)?
A UAV, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, is an aircraft that operates without a human pilot onboard. Instead, it is either piloted remotely by a human operator or autonomously through pre-programmed systems or artificial intelligence. UAVs are commonly known as “drones.”
Type of UAVs:
- Fixed-Wing: Resemble airplanes; long flight times; used for surveillance and mapping.
- Multi-Rotor: Have multiple rotors (E.g., quadcopters); great for photography and short-range tasks.
- Single-Rotor: Like helicopters; carry heavier payloads; used for specialized tasks.
- VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing): Combine fixed-wing and rotor features; long endurance with vertical takeoffs/landings.
- Tethered: Connected to a ground station; offer continuous power for persistent tasks.
- Nano/Micro: Small drones for indoor use or tight spaces.
- High Altitude: Operate at great heights; used for weather and surveillance.
- Swarm: Groups of drones working together; used for coordinated displays and research.
UAVs in India:
- During the 1990s, the Indian Army procured unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel, subsequently prompting the Indian Air Force and Navy to adopt similar measures.
- During the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan, India employed military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to conduct visual reconnaissance activities along the Line of Control (LOC).
- The regulation of all aerial vehicles, whether human or automated, in India is overseen by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), initially designed for military and aerospace applications, have gained widespread adoption in several sectors due to their notable advancements in safety and efficiency.
Application of UAVs:
- The ‘Drone Rules 2021’ and Drone Amendment Rules 2022 have been introduced to support the UAV industry with restrictions on foreign drone imports.
New Drone Rules 2021:
- In 2021, India introduced a new set of guidelines called “The Drone Rules, 2021” to regulate the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or drones in the country.
- These rules replaced the previous guidelines issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in 2018 and aimed to simplify and liberalize the regulatory framework for drones.
Key highlights and provisions of the Drone Rules, 2021:
Reduced Compliance Burden:
- The number of forms required for operating drones has been reduced from 25 to 5.
- Permissions such as the Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP), Remote Pilot License, and many others have been abolished.
- The “No Permission, No Takeoff” (NPNT) mandate has been liberalised.
- The Drone Rules classified drones into five categories based on weight: Nano (up to 250 grams), Micro (250 grams to 2 kg), Small (2 kg to 25 kg), Medium (25 kg to 150 kg), and Large (more than 150 kg).
- The maximum altitude for drone operations has been set at 400 feet.
Safety and No-Fly Zones:
- Drones cannot be flown in specified no-fly zones such as over the perimeter of strategic locations, military installations, and from the international border unless permitted.
- Yellow zones (controlled airspace) have been reduced from 45 km to 12 km from the airport perimeter.
Easier Import Process:
- The process for importing drones has been simplified, with the requirement for security clearance before any approval or license has been done away.
Digital Sky Platform:
- An interactive airspace map with green, yellow, and red zones will be displayed on the Digital Sky Platform.
- Real-time tracking of drones is mandated for all Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) except for those in the Nano category.
Promotion of Indigenous Manufacturing:
- The rules encourage the use of drones “Made in India” and promote indigenous research and development.
- Penalties for minor violations have been reduced, focusing on a constructive approach rather than a punitive one.
- Drones must have insurance for potential damages to third parties.