When the Indian Army’s 9 Para Special Forces conducted the surgical strike crossing Line of Control (LOC) in the wee hours of 29 September, 2016 in retaliation to the Uri terrorist attack, it was a small drone that helped the soldiers escape from the enemy’s ambush.
The drone located enemy’s location by flying ahead of the soldiers giving them an upper hand. It was the only mission carried out by that drone and it is currently preserved as a souvenir of the historic event by its makers in Kalady, Ernakulam.
The drone was manufactured by the Kalady-based firm AutomicroUAS Aerotech Pvt Ltd (AMUAS), run by two retired IAF officers Gp Capt M J Augustine Vinod, a Malayali, and his wife Squadron Leader Varsha Kukreti. They custom-made the drone in their Hyderabad laboratory as per the requirements of the Army around a week before the surgical strike without knowing anything about the mission. They had also trained the soldiers to operate the device.
“We have associated with the armed forces for various programmes involving drones since the inception of AMUAS in 2015. Col Kapil Yadav, commanding officer of 9 Para SF, is a friend from the service, and he asked us if we could provide them with a small drone based on their requirements for a particular task. They did not disclose anything about its purpose and we made a lightweight drone with night vision capability. We delivered it to them and trained the team to use it. Much later after the mission the drone had some repair works and they brought it to us. It was then we were informed by the CO about the mission and that our drone saved the lives of his soldiers,” said Vinod, who is the director of AMUAS.
Now, the drone is kept as a souvenir along with citation from 9 Para SF, which they received as a ‘silent acknowledgement’ of their service. “We did not charge for the drone and we requested the CO to return it so that we could keep it. We named the drone ‘Jumper’ and the surgical strike mission was the only mission carried out by it. It was really great to know that our device helped the soldiers to accomplish such a crucial mission,” said Kukreti, the founder and CEO of AMUAS, who is also a trained drone instructor pilot certified by director general, civil aviation, under the ministry of civil aviation.
Though AMUAS’ registered office is in Yordhanapuram, Kalady, the company’s main operations were held in Bengaluru and Gurgaon. It was only during the lockdown the couple shifted to Kalady, where a new lab and manufacturing facility was set up. They are offering internship to several students from colleges across South India. “We have travelled across India as part of work and Kerala is the best place to work. The workforce here is more skilled and the climate is favourable too. So we decided to settle down here. Drone industry is thriving and Kerala has huge potential in this regard especially in the civilian applications of UAV,” Kukreti said.