Drone Threat: Need for Comprehensive Counter-Drone Strategy

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    Drone Threat: Need for Comprehensive Counter-Drone Strategy

    Syllabus: GS 3/Science and Technology/Internal Security

    In Context 

    The possibility of the use of weaponised drones for terrorist activities in the present scenario calls for serious attention from the global community.

    The Drone Threat

    • The potential use of drones in a terrorist incident or attack against critical infrastructure and soft targets is a growing concern for law enforcement as the availability of drone technology becomes more widespread globally. 
    • As drones become less expensive and their potential applications continue to expand, it is expected that countries will witness an increase and evolution of this threat.
    • Recent examples include terrorist groups using drones in surveillance activities and delivering chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive materials in conflict zones, and an environmental group that repurposed a hobby drone to enter the secure airspace of a nuclear site and crash into a building highlighted the current reality of the threat posed by the illicit use of drones.

    Issues and Challenges in Countering it 

    • A drone can inflict unacceptable damage, not only in physical terms but also in terms of national pride. 
    • Its occurrence is more likely and unpredictable and Even an attempt goes undetected.
    • The use of missiles against drones is expensive and the drones may not provide enough heat signatures for relatively cost-effective heat-seeking missiles defeating the cost advantage. 
    • Handheld guns have very limited range and accuracy
    • Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) devices, apart from having a limited Field of View under high magnification necessary for identification, are adversely affected by atmospheric obscurities and emissivity. 
    • Wide-band detectors are possible but finding the exact frequency of operation would be time-consuming and cumbersome.
    • Passive Radio Frequency (RF) detection needs multiple sensors at different places to obtain a fix and the problem gets compounded if the target is a moving platform. 
    • The introduction of 5G has added another dimension where communication is not dependent on the direct link between the drone and the operator. 
      • 5G utilises higher radio frequencies to transfer more data over the air for faster speed, reduced congestion and lower latency, and most important Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLS).
    •  Satcom connectivity, which was earlier available only to military-grade drones, is now likely to be available commercially, enabling the drones but compounding the problem for counter-drone operations.

    Counter Drone Efforts 

    • Globally: The USA established Joint C-UAS Office (JCO) in 2019 with the purpose “to lead, synchronize, and direct C-sUAS (Countering small Unmanned Aircraft System) activities by looking at doctrine, requirements, materiel, training standards, and capabilities to establish joint solutions with a common architecture to address current and future emerging sUAS threats. 
      • In the UK, the National Protective Security Authority (NPSA) coordinates with the counter-drone unit of the home office and other government agencies to maximise efficiency and minimise confusion in implementing credible anti-drone solutions.
      • The NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency) conducted NATO’s Counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS) Technical Interoperability Exercise 2022 (TIE22) in the Netherlands in 2022.
      • A similar exercise was carried out by Interpol with over 300 participants from more than 50 countries.
      • Drone catchers have also emerged as an option. 
        • Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation has confirmed that the country has received the first six interceptors ‘Shahed catchers’ from the US

    Developments in India 

    • India has a well-articulated Drone Policy 2021 that is updated on a regular basis, but an anti-drone policy is still being developed. 
    • In India, as per a report in the Government Economic Times Centre for High Energy Systems and Sciences (CHESS) a DRDO laboratory in Hyderabad has been experimenting with the DEW technology development that includes DURGA II (Directionally Unrestricted Ray-Gun Array), a 100 KW lightweight DEW system. 
    • India has already had an experience with its Herons and Searchers procured by the three services that were not interoperable. 
      • A national-level strategy will overcome such issues.
    • The DRDO has developed an anti-drone technology for short ranges, which was deployed for Prime Minister’s security during the Independence Day address.

    Way Forward 

    • India must formulate a counter-drone strategy involving all stakeholders. 
    • The counter-drone strategy must provide a comprehensive understanding of the evolving risks posed by the malicious and illegal use of drones, as well as take a ‘full spectrum approach to deter, detect, and disrupt drone misuse. 
    • It must provide access to counter-drone capabilities as well as effective legislation, training, and guidance to operational responders.
    •  It must aid in the development of strong relationships with the industry in order to ensure that its products meet the highest standards. 
    • Counter drone strategy will act as a deterrent and like a good deterrent, will prevent the undesirable occurrence without even coming into play – the only requirement is its credibility.
    • Many options of net catchers are available in the market but a system must be fully autonomous, capable of day/night operations with advanced AI/ML algorithms.

    Mains Practice Question 

    [Q] Discuss how Drone technologies contribute to terrorist activities? Elaborate strategy to tackle the problem both at national and international levels.