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India is investing in developing unmanned vehicles as it prepares for an approaching era of soldier-less battlefields despite the current void in policies governing how they will be used.

Government-run labs of the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) and National Aeronautics Ltd, along with state-owned defense manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, are working on several drone projects, starting with vehicles that weigh under 1 kg to Rustom II, which will have a payload capacity of 350 kg.

The DRDO is putting together a policy document for the year 2020 as well as a more advanced one for 2025, which has laid emphasis on building the country’s drone capabilities.

“We have good capability in terms of software and several foreign companies are coming in, which means production capabilities are bound to get developed. Why can’t we put the two together and create UAVs for the air, ground and underwater?” said S Christopher, chairman of the DRDO, recently.

According to business-standard.com, the DRDO is working on a series of unmanned vehicles including unmanned combat aircraft, or UCAV, which will be powered by the homegrown Kaveri engine.

The vast amount of global manufacturers displaying UAVs at Aero India this year signaled the interest of India’s armed forces to procure these machines. Israel Aerospace Industries, Elbit, Saab, Boeing and many other smaller players gave a prominent display of their drones, some of which were capable of weaponised warfare. JK Organisation has announced its foray into India’s drone market in partnership with Canadian firm MicroPilot. There are commercial sectors that will benefit from this.

“The demand for mini-UAVs is currently really constrained by a lack of clarity on the regulations, which is expected to go away in the next few months. Once that’s behind us, we expect the market to grow by at least three times in the next three years,” said Rajesh Kakkar, chief executive, Global Strategic Technologies Ltd, JK Organisation.

JK’s Deepti Electronics & Electro-Optics Pvt Ltd (DELOPT) unit, which currently builds payloads such as cameras for small drones, has partnered Canadian firm MicroPilot to supply the autopilot system for these UAVs. With this, DELOPT hopes to become an even larger supplier of drone ancillaries to the armed forces, paramilitary or police, which are looking to deploy drone platforms built by other manufacturers.