Garuda Kisan drone

How one Indian drone company is capitalizing on export, import bans

Between the Chinese government’s own export controls of its drones coupled with the Indian government’s own ban on imported drones, the recent months have been a whirlwind for where drones can (and more likely cannot) be shipped. And one Indian drone company, Garuda Aerospace, has been setting itself to capitalize on all of it.

Garuda Aerospace announced this month that it would be partnering with five major international drone companies as a distributor — enabling it to sell products made by those companies to other clients within India. And with some of those companies, Garuda is functioning as more than just a distributor, extending all the way into roles such as scaling from research and development or assembly to full manufacturing of those company’s drones and related products in India.

The five companies that Garuda announced partnerships in August 2023 with span the U.S., Canada, Israel and Europe. They build drones for use cases ranging from monitoring the condition of state infrastructure, ensuring roads and bridges are constructed according to plan and crop spraying, to emergency response and deployment of anti-drone cyber security solutions. Those companies are:

  • Aero Sentinel: Aero Sentinel is a military drones manufacturer in Israel that specializes in surveillance military drones, quadcopters and ground control systems for military and police use. (Based in Israel)
  • Azur Drones: Azur develops drone-in-a-box solutions without remote pilots designed for surveillance and inspection of sensitive and complex environments. (Based in Mérignac, France)
  • Easy Aerial: Easy Aerial develops and manufactures autonomous and remotely operated military-grade drone-in-a-box solutions.  (Based in Brooklyn, New York)
  • Securiton: Securiton Germany builds drone detection solutions designed to classify, verify and repel remote-controlled drones, as well as drones flying autonomously over waypoints. (Based in Achern, Germany)
  • Titan Innovations: Titan Innovations builds specialized, fully integrated unmanned systems tailor-made for its customers. (Based in Israel)

While Garuda, which is based in Chennai and founded in 2016, announced partnerships with those five companies this month, the company said it intends to grow its portfolio of partners.

“We look at the market needs and trends and find partners whose technology will help fill those needs,” said Bruno Escojido, Global Head of Strategic Partnerships at Garuda Aerospace. “Additionally, sometimes we will have a client with particular demands, and we will choose a partner to work with based on their ability to create a solution for that client.”  

Garuda Kisan drone
The Garuda Kisan drone is designed for agricultural applications. Image courtesy of Garuda.

Most of the Garuda partnerships fall into four categories:

  • Distribution of the other company’s product
  • Modification of products from partner companies to support specific Garuda customer needs
  • Manufacturing, research & development of the partner’s product
  • Integration of partner products into Garuda’s own products

Escojido also said that Garuda works with companies in the counter-drone sector using a similar business model. Though its drones are not exclusively for military and commercial use, as it has clients within the enterprise, government, commercial, and military sectors. It also sells small (under 250 gram) drones with cameras for the consumer market. 

Drones fly at the Tamil Nadu Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Corporation (UAVC) exhibition in Chennai, India in January 2022. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP)

What is the impact of India’s ban on importing drones?

India’s government in February 2022 imposed an import ban on drones with only a few exceptions for use cases such as defense, security, and research and development.

Unlike the U.S. ban on DJI drones which applies only for certain, military use, the Indian government has an outright ban on DJI drones applying to consumer drones as well. In short, it’s a far more extensive ban than what the U.S. government has imposed.

As of February 2022 (when the import rule went into effect), nearly 70% of drones used in India were estimated to have come from China, according to Gautam Vohra, vice-president and business head for telecom and engineering staffing at TeamLease Services. DJI previously supplied drones for an array of Indian companies servicing the agricultural, construction, security, emergency response and defense sectors, among others. 

India’s ban on importing foreign drones has been positioned by government leaders as a move to boost the country’s own tech sector and encourage its people to buy products made in India. There are also likely strong political motivations.

“Garuda Aerospace has met this challenge with an impressive display of foresight, penning partnerships designed to fill the void left by DJI and build on the momentum garnered by this rapidly growing market,” according to a statement from Garuda.

Does this give Indian businesses a leg up in their own country?

For Garuda, the answer seems to be yes, as it appears ready to dominate the Indian drone market with its robust portfolio of partnerships with non-Chinese companies.

“Our mission is to be a one-stop shop for all things drones,” Escojido said. “We achieve that through more distribution partnerships, manufacturing partnerships, and modifying models.”

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