Drone Threat: Need for Comprehensive Counter-Drone Strategy
Syllabus: GS 3/Science and Technology/Internal Security
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.
- 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.