Facing the Drone Challenge

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    Drone attack in Jammu underlines an emerging threat as well as a need to build capacity in this field.

    About

    • Two drones dropped an IED each packed with high grade-explosives on an Indian Air Force base in Jammu. 
    • It was the first-ever attack in India where suspected terrorists had used drones.
    • India is building its offensive and defensive capabilities to prevent such attacks.

    Application of Drones

    • Over the last decade, drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are being increasingly used for 
      • law and order, 
      • courier services, and 
      • surveillance and attack in the military domain. 
    • Modern drones have been used militarily since the 1990s, including by the US during the Gulf War.
    • DIY (do it yourself) drones can be easily accessed and used by state and non-state actors.
    • In India, the most commonly known drones are:
      • quad- and hexacopters used for civil and commercial purposes, 
      • Heron drones used for military surveillance. 
    • Different UAVs operate under various technologies ranging from the remote control by a human operator to using GPS and radio frequencies, and autopilot assistance.

    India’s Drone Technology

    • The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed a detect-and-destroy technology for drones, but it is not yet into mass production. 
    • The DRDO’s counter-drone System was 
      • deployed for VVIP protection at the Republic Day parades in 2020 and 2021
      • Developed in 2019, 
      • Has capabilities for hardkill (destroying a drone with lasers) and softkill (jamming a drone’s signals). 
      • It has a 360° radar that can detect micro drones up to 4 km, and other sensors to do so within 2 km. Its softkill range is 3 km and hardkill range between 150 m and 1 km.
    • The Army is working upon its swarm technology, with 75 drones swarming together to destroy simulated targets.
    • Leased from other countries: Last year the Navy got two unarmed SeaGuardian Predator drones on lease from the US. The three forces want 30 of these UAVs between them.

    Significance

    • Quality Aerial Imaging: Drones are excellent for taking high-quality 3D aerial photographs and video, and collecting vast amounts of imaging data. 
    • Precision: Since unmanned aerial vehicles use GPS (the Global Positioning System), they can be programmed and manoeuvred accurately to precise locations. 
    • Easily Deployable: With advances in control technology, most drones can be deployed and operated with relatively minimal experience. Combined with the relatively low cost of most models, drones are becoming accessible to a wide range of operators. 
    • Enhanced Movement: UAVs also have a greater range of movement than manned aircraft. They are able to fly lower and in more directions, allowing them to easily navigate traditionally hard-to-access areas.
    • Security: With the appropriate license, operators can use unmanned aerial vehicles to provide security and surveillance to private companies, sporting events, public gatherings, and other venues. 
    • Gather valuable data: Drones can also gather valuable data during and after natural disasters to aid in security and recovery efforts.

    Challenges

    • Clear Modus Operandi: Responsibility and division of work should be clear as to Who (the armed forces or the civilian forces) would be responsible for such mechanisms. It is a sub-tactical threat but requires a strategic response. 
    • Funding: Funding from the Government is a problem. Manufacturing at large scales and its deployment will require a lot of money and strategising.
    • Difficult to Differentiate: Counter strategy should be so strong that it is able to differentiate between a bird and an actual drone. Also, it should give enough warning to positively identify that it is not a bird, to fire. 
    • Easy Access: They are cheap, so anyone can have easy access to them.
    • Anonymous: Their anonymous nature is a big risk to know about the origin of the drone. Drone attacks can be launched from within as well. 
    • Swarm drones: Swarm drones, where scores of drones overwhelm and confuse detection systems, resulting in some of the drones sneaking through.

    Indian experience

    • In the last few years, India and its enemies have frequently used drone surveillance against each other. 
    • The last three years have also seen drones dropping weapons, ammunition and drugs. 
    • In recent years, there have been an estimated 100-150 sightings of suspected drones near India’s western border annually. Most of these are suspected to be surveillance drones.
    • Cases:
      • BSF detected weapons dropped by a suspected Pakistan drone in Jammu. One AK-47 assault rifle, one pistol, one magazine, and 15 rounds for a 9 mm weapon were recovered 250 m inside Indian territory.
      • The BSF shot down a drone in Hiranagar, Jammu. The hexacopter’s payload included a US-made M4 semi-automatic carbine, two magazines, 60 rounds and seven Chinese grenades.

    Solution to Drone Chaos

    • Currently, border forces in India largely use eyesight to spot drones and then shoot them down. It is easier said than done as most rogue drones are very small and operate at heights difficult to target.
    • India has been exploring technologies to detect and disable drones using electromagnetic charges or shoot them down using laser guns
    • Either control the mechanism by jamming or can control the delivery mechanism. It depends on what kind of radar is being used, which is critical for the size of the UAV that needs to be detected.
    • Technology to disable their navigation, interfere with their radio frequency, or just fry their circuits using high energy beams have also been tested. 

    Sources: IE