India’s defence procurement, long met through public sector undertakings apart from imports, is increasingly an area of focus for homegrown start-ups. Zulu Defence, a Bengaluru-based venture, manufactures drones geared for deployment in warfare.

Founded in September 2023 by Nagendran Kandasamy, Shashikumar Ramakrishna and Rajagopal Sethuraman, the startup’s area of focus is advanced air defence aerial systems for rapid deployment, surveillance and reconnaissance, precision strikes, and counter-measure capabilities.

“Currently the warfare drone market is dominated by Israel and western countries like the US, and there is a lot of price inflation globally. In comparison, our pricing is very competitive, in the ₹4.5-40 lakh range. We also provide customisation according to each country’s military needs, which international players do not offer,” Kandasamy says.

AI-assisted vision

Zulu Defence currently produces four types of drones. Its DRAP (deployable recce and attack platform) is a ‘hovering munition’ — it functions as a flying weapon with computer vision and can carry up to 5 kg of warheads with a range of fuse options. 

HOVERBEE is a portable reconnaissance system that can be launched and recovered using the palm of a hand. Recon90 — a long-range, tactical-grade unmanned aircraft system platform — can be deployed in less than two minutes and can remain airborne for 90 minutes. It is used for AI-assisted object identification and target tracking.

Volume35 is an all-weather unmanned aircraft system that can transport 35 kg of cargo at high altitudes. 

Although the drones need not be used together, the combination makes the performance more cohesive, Kandasamy notes. 

The company has secured orders in India and garnered interest from overseas markets such as South America, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Egypt, he says. 

Zulu has an R&D and manufacturing centre in Bengaluru; 75 per cent of its manufacturing is local and 25 per cent imported. The company is developing capability to increase its drone’s target attack range from 15 km to 100 km. It is also working on solid propellants to increase the drone range.