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Happy Republic Day, Bharat: How the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks Shaped Indian Drone Technology

© AFP 2023 / Lorenzo TUGNOLIFire engulfs the top floor of the Taj Mahal hotel, site of one of the shootouts with terrorists in Mumbai on late November 26, 2008.
Fire engulfs the top floor of the Taj Mahal hotel, site of one of the shootouts with terrorists in Mumbai on late November 26, 2008. - Sputnik International
After being colonized for over 200 years, India, the world’s largest democracy with 1.37 billion citizens, fought a long and hard battle before breaking away from the British regime in 1947. On 26 January, 1950, India ratified its national Constitution, and every year the date is celebrated as 'Republic Day'.

In recent months, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, on multiple occasions, encouraged Indians to gradually walk the nation into an era of “self reliance”. Statements from India’s defense, with over 1.4 million personnel and the world’s second largest army, recently offered that the future of India falls in line with self reliance.

In a $20-million deal, the Indian Army signed homegrown firm IdeaForge to supply special, high altitude drones to the country’s infantry soldiers and Special Forces over a period of one year.

Born in the iconic Mumbai campus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), the firm is the brainchild of three engineers – Ankit Mehta, Rahul Singh and Ashish Bhatt. A start-up in 2007, today the weapons maker has a mega-deal with the Indian Army won against bids from foreign firms from nations including the US and Israel.

With India marking its 72nd Republic Day, Mehta, 37, a mechanical engineer, founder and CEO of IdeaForge, revealed to Sputnik that “patriotism” is the driving factor that resulted in the formation of their weapons company. It was that fateful night of 26 November 2008, when terror attacks in Mumbai city jolted India into a nightmare.

We were always keen on building high-performing and light-weight drones. The 26/11 Mumbai terror attack made us realise that if our drones were up and running at the time, they could have helped save the lives of on-ground personnel and civilians while also neutralizing the terrorists. This made our resolve stronger and pushed it into sort of a ‘hyper-drive’ of work to make it a reality,” Mehta said. 

The Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai was ravaged by fire, gunshots and grenade explosions during the 2008 terrorist attacks - Sputnik International
Recalling Mumbai 26/11, Horrific Terror Attack That Killed 174: India Vows to Vanquish Terrorism
Looking at how far India’s technology has improved in recent years, Mehta advised young engineers to resolve to push India’s own, home-grown technologies in every sphere.

The Indian drone-maker emphasized that technology that can be harnessed for the modernization of India’s defense must be paired with indigenous hardware and software to keep national security the priority.

“If we take just drones for instance, they’re important as they add a strategic as well as [a] tactical edge to the military. But this can be fruitful only when the tech is conceptualized, developed and manufactured in India itself. Our indigenous advanced tech surpasses international competition quite regularly,” said Ashish Bhatt, co-founder and vice president of R&D, IdeaForge.

In explaining their drone products, Rahul Singh, a mechanical engineer and founder and vice president of IdeaForge, noted that their, “drones belong to a different class of unmanned aerial vehicles that does not require heavy investment in building infrastructure and training resources for operations and maintenance. They are portable and lightweight and boast of best-in-class flight time and range that cannot be matched by drones from a higher class category”.

The Indian firm won the contract after competing with Israel’s top unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturer Elbit, as well as other international companies. 

“As things go, sooner rather than later we intend to make India the drone capital of the world,” Singh added, hoping that over time, this ‘indigenous’ drone-led awareness would help sustain the status-quo in these sensitive regions, ensuring the safety of soldiers and civilians alike.

Marking the country’s 72nd Republic Day, these Indian drone wizards have asked nation’s upcoming engineers to keep deriving inspiration for problem solving from everyday life.

“Republic Day when we look back at whatever we could and have done for the Indian Army it gives us that extra impetus to learn deeper and apply better. Everything around you would teach you something if you are willing to learn,” Vipul Joshi, operations head of the drone-firm added.
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