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In the first of its kind in the Indian defence sector, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has announced the Mehar Baba prize under which individuals, start-ups and other “for profit” entities can compete to build a swarm of 50 drones to be employed in Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations.

The competition aims to tap into the young talent pool available across the country and leverage its expertise to meet the emerging requirements of the armed forces. If successful it can be a benchmark for other services to emulate.

“The winners, up to three, will get up to ₹10 lakh in prize followed by a co-production opportunity with a Base Repair Depot (BRD) towards a ₹100 crore order for induction of their developed drone swarms,” an IAF officer said.

The increasing frequency of natural disasters in the country and the extensive damage they cause, underlines the need for enhanced HADR response efforts, especially in the remote and far-flung areas and the swarm technology has great potential in this domain.

The competition is split in three phases where those in Phase II and Phase III meet the jury set benchmarks, shall get their development cost reimbursed of up to ₹25 lakhs and ₹10 crores respectively, the officer added.

The deadline to submit proposals for the competition is November 14 and those shortlisted would have to make a presentation and present a detailed plan before a jury for which the deadline is December 18.

The competition is named in the honour of Late Air Commodore Mehar Singh affectionately called Mehar Baba. He was commissioned as a pilot officer in 1936 in UK and was posted to the sole squadron in the Royal Indian Air Force based in the North West Frontier. Post-independence Mehar Baba was the first to land in Srinagar, was the first to land in Poonch in Kashmir, and later the first to land in Leh, Ladakh and Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) – the then highest altitude airstrip in the world.

Swarm drones as a technology concept, in which a large number of drones are operated and employed collectively on a task, is picking up traction and several countries are investing time and efforts to build large swarms that have multiple applications.