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Exclusive: New drone rules to be open for consultation on August 15, India looking at ‘Made In India’ counter-UAV solutions

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You are reading it here first: Days after the drone attack in Jammu, the Union government is modifying its existing rules for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and also looking at various Made in India counter-drone solutions that can detect and combat rogue UAVs such as the one that bombed the Indian Airforce base in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Rules for drone operations, research, manufacturing, and exports are being liberalised and are likely to be released for public consultation around August 15, 2021,” Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary at Ministry of Civil Aviation and head of the drones division told MediaNama in response to specific queries about the ramifications of the UAV attack, if any, on drone policies.

“The proposed rules were presented to the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and senior government officials on June 29, and have received wide encouragement and support. The valuable feedback received in the meeting is being incorporated and will be submitted to the committee of secretaries soon,” Dubey added.

Ever since the UAV attack on the airbase in Jammu Airport, there has been palpable tension in the drone community in regards to the effect, if any, on the drone rules. Apprehensions were amplified when the Rajouri district administration in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday announced a blanket ban on the operation, sale, and possession of drones or flying toys within the district limits. Those who already have drones were asked to deposit their properties with the police.

However, it is important to note, that when MediaNama asked Dubey if Sunday’s incident would have any effect on the granting of such exemptions, he said, “Drones are the future of aviation, cargo, surveillance, and warfare. The government will continue to provide full support for the rapid growth of the drone sector.” However, no further details were provided in regards to the content of the upcoming rules.

Developing counter-drone systems only way to combat rogue UAVs: Dubey

On June 29, PM Narendra Modi held a high-level meeting in the wake of the attack and further sightings in the Jammu area. The subject of ‘counter-drone systems’ was brought up in the meeting and it was decided that a policy in this regard was being worked out, a report by NDTV said.

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What is a counter-drone system?: This refers to systems that detect or intercept unmanned aircraft systems while in flight, according to 911security.com. For instance, Rohde-Schwarz’s counter-drone system, “automatically classifies the type of drone signal, determines the direction of the drone and its pilot, and disrupts the radio control link to prevent the drone from reaching its target.

“The only way to counter a rogue drone is by developing counter-drone systems that can detect, defuse and/ or destroy such drones without causing collateral damage. The system also needs to be affordable since it may be needed at hundreds of vital installations all over the country. The government is looking at various solutions,” Dubey, joint secretary in the Ministry of Civil Aviation told Medianama.

A made in India counter-drone solution requires a robust drone R&D and manufacturing ecosystem in the country. The ecosystem will be developed by India’s IT-savvy youth. Supporting them is the key objective behind the new rules being drafted — Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation

Upcoming rules may affect unregistered drones

Prem Kumar Vislawath, co-founder of Marut Drones said that the upcoming drone rules may affect those who have rogue or unregistered drones. Vislawath, whose Marut Drones is one of the 20 entities to have been granted exemption from the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules 2020 and allowed to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BvLOS) operations by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, added, “But people who have exemptions from MoCa and DGCA should be fine.”

As mentioned earlier, the Union government has been granting several exemptions to governments, startups, and public bodies from the UAS Rules 2021 which has regulatory restrictions and safeguards in place. These exemptions are granted to promote the usage of drones, to take up BVLOS operations (remote drone flight without having to be maneuvered by looking at it), and to promote research and development.

The UAS Rules 2021 have several safeguards in place —

  • No Permission No Take-off (NPNT) policy adopted for all UAS except for those in the nano category
  • Small and micro drones not permitted from flying above 60m and 120m
  • Drones, except those in the nano category, have to be equipped with flashing anti-collision lights, flight data logging capability, and other security measures
  • All UAS including nano ones should have a satellite navigation system, return-to-home option, etc.
  • Drones are prohibited from flying in strategic and sensitive locations, including near airports, and areas earmarked as strategic locations/vital installations by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • Nano, micro, and small drones should be flown within the visual line of sight, and are prohibited from delivery of goods.

In terms of expectation, Avdhesh Khaitan, co-founder of Kadet Defence Systems, said, “The recent attacks using drones could be used as a catalyst to enhance research and development of anti-drone technology, and not excessively regulate the usage of UAVs in the country.”

The latest Unmanned Aircraft Systems Rules, 2021 are a consequence of comprehensive stakeholder consultations going on since last two years in the drone segment, which replaces the Civil Aviation Requires (CAR) on Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). New Rules, mandates the regulatory role of DGCA even more, from giving licence for operations to consent for carrying out any R&D initiatives. It can be expected, the new Rules with structured provisions on Safety Oversight Mechanism, Maintenance Centres, Student Remote Pilot License, Remote Pilot License and Insurance will strengthen drone space in India even more in the coming days. The new Rules are well and carefully drafted, considering the shape, size, and end use of the drones. I do not see the recent drone attack in J&K would lead to a major revision or/ and change in the rules, except that in the identification/ registration procedure — Sameer Jain, Managing Partner, PSL Advocates & Solicitor

Amay Jain, Associate, Victoriam Legalis, Advocates & Solicitors said, “A few months ago, Chennai based startup, Garuda Aerospace was in news for manufacturing drones which had been previously used for the purpose of sanitization of COVID affected areas in 2020. Thereafter, the Indian Space Research Organization had also tried out the use of drone-based delivery of medicines and food at its residential colony in Sullurpetha, Andhra Pradesh. The much-awaited Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 were also notified in March 2021. The legal framework regarding drones and their commercial potential in India was evolving, materializing and developing with the needs, wants and prospect application of technology. However, in wake of the recent drone attacks and the tragic potential eventualities of such incidents in future, it is likely that the applicable rules and regulations will be made more stringent, and the government will introduce new measures and mechanisms to ensure safety and compliance with the applicable norms.”

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Update, July 1, 3 pm: Added a quote from Amay Jain, Associate at Victoriam Legalis, Advocates and Solicitors

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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