• Saturday, September 30, 2023


India bars Chinese drone components citing security reasons

By: Pramod Thomas

INDIA in recent months has barred domestic manufacturers of military drones from using components made in China over concerns about security vulnerabilities, according to four defence and industry officials and documents reviewed by Reuters.

The measure comes amid tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours and as New Delhi pursues a military modernisation that envisages greater use of unmanned quadcopters, long-endurance systems and other autonomous 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.

Three of these people and some of the six other government and industry figures interviewed by Reuters spoke on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to talk to the media or because of the topic’s sensitivity. India’s defence ministry did not respond to Reuters questions.

India’s approach, complements phased import restrictions on surveillance drones since 2020 and is being implemented through military tenders, documents show.

At two meetings in February and March to discuss drone tenders, Indian military officials told potential bidders that equipment or subcomponents from “countries sharing land borders with India will not be acceptable for security reasons”, according to minutes. The minutes did not identify the military officials.

One tender document said such subsystems had “security loopholes” that compromised critical military data, and called for vendors to disclose components’ origin.

A senior defence official said the reference to neighbouring countries was a euphemism for China, adding 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, which last week announced export controls on some drones and drone-related equipment, did not respond to questions about India’s measures.

Prime minister Narendra Modi has sought to build India’s drone capability to thwart perceived threats, including from China, whose forces have clashed with Indian soldiers along their disputed border in recent years.

India has set aside $19.77 billion for military modernisation in 2023-24, of which 75 per cent 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 Bengaluru-based NewSpace Research and Technologies, a supplier of small drones for India’s military, said 70 per cent of goods in the supply chain were made in China.

“So if I talk to, let’s say, a Polish guy, he still has his components which are coming via China,” he said.

Switching to a non-Chinese pipeline pushed up costs dramatically, Joshi said, adding that some manufacturers were still importing material from China but would “white-label it, and kind of keep the costs within that frame”.



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