The drone strike at Indian Air Force (IAF) Jammu base followed by two drone sightings at Ratnuchak and Kaluchak military stations are clear indicators that terrorists have upped the game and are using technology to remain one step ahead of the security forces.
The use of drones by terrorists to target IAF Jammu base marks a paradigm shift in the nature of the threat and counter measures.
Not only are vital assets and vital points vulnerable but so are military convoys.
What is the use of drones?
Drones are essentially a military tool as they eliminate the risk on a pilot’s life in combat zones, and since they are unmanned, they don’t require fatigue-induced rest, making them fly till fuel lasts or until some mechanical problems crop up.
Drones are now used for various purposes from delivery of merchandise, taking photographs or shooting videos to military warfare and space exploration.
The US military made the first big demonstration of the military use of drones in the 1991 Gulf War. It deployed UAVs to target its enemy forces.
In space, the US Air Force’s mysterious X-37B space plane, which has made at least six clandestine forays into space, is perhaps the most-talked-about drone.
How drones became a tool of terror?
- The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) in February 2021 published a report titled, The Role of Drones in Future Terrorist Attacks.
- Here, the AUSA said the Islamic State made the first successful use of drones for terrorism.
- “Occasionally the group would strap an explosive onto a small drone and try to land it near a military outpost, as it happened in October when a booby-trapped toy aircraft exploded as Kurdish fighters were examining it near the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.”
- Earlier in 2013, Al-Qaeda attempted a terror attack using multiple drones in Pakistan without success. From 2016 on, the Islamic State made drone attacks a regular feature in its operations in Iraq and Syria.
- The threat was so serious that in 2019, European Union Security Commissioner Julian King warned that European cities could be targeted by terror groups using drones.
- Besides the Islamic State, the Hezbollah — active in Palestine and Lebanon, the Houthi rebels, the Taliban and several terror outfits in Pakistan are known to employ drones for terrorism.
- The threat of drone attacks from the Pakistani side is very real.
- Sighting of drones near India-Pakistan border and the Line of Control (LoC) has been frequent. Some of them have carried weapons to the Indian side.
- In 2019, security personnel reported 167 sighting of drones from Pakistan, according to the official figures. In the pandemic hit 2020, there were 77 sightings.
- In September 2019, the Punjab Police had seized a drone-dropped arms consignment to bust a terror module, which was receiving supplies from Pakistan. The seizure included AK-47 rifles and China-made pistols.
- Another drone-dropped arms consignment was seized in Punjab’s Gurdaspur in June 2020. The same month, the Border Security Force (BSF) shot down a drone in the Hira Nagar sector of Jammu. The recoveries included the US-made M4 rifles.
- In January 2021, the Jammu and Kashmir Police caught two persons as they were picking up drone-dropped arms consignment.
Why preventing drone terror attack is difficult?
- The surveillance technology including radar systems that India has deployed at the borders or lines of control is meant for tracking bigger objects, helicopters, planes and missiles.
- Drones are smaller in size as small as 2 feet or only 60 cm than previously popular UAVs but can fly for several kilometres at a speed ranging from 125 kmph to over 950 kmph, according to the AUSA report.
- Preventing drone attacks requires jamming of drone systems and shooting them down.
- Laser-based Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) are being talked about as a defence system against drone attacks.
- In India, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed two anti-drone DEW systems.
- They can use powerful 10-kilowatt laser to engage aerial targets at a distance of 2 km. However, mass production of these systems is yet to take place.
Difficult to track:
- Most drones used for cross-border smuggling of arms and ammo or for attacks are much smaller than conventional aircraft.
- Since low altitude and their minuscule radar makes them difficult to track electronically, ground forces have to rely on visual sightings and audio signals
- Being border states and given their history of terrorism, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir are vulnerable to cross-border smuggling and terror attacks.
- Security forces have reported an increase in drone activity in border areas, with several instances of drones violating the Indian air space of being used to drop arms and ammunition on this side of the border.
How do you prevent a drone attack?
- It is very difficult to locate small drones and the ones operating them. One needs to deploy drone-detection technology and subsequent countermeasures to tackle this threat.
- Drone detection can be RF-based or via conventional radars tuned to detect drones or via electro-optic payloads that use thermal imaging.
- Once identified, you can launch a kinetic energy weapon against the drone or jam it or confuse it by jamming its GPS.
- Israel’s Iron Dome and other missile systems act within seconds. Detection and action against drones will happen at a very fast pace but it will take some time to gain that kind of capability.
- Critics are of the opinion that since the Centre has not allowed the use of drones for delivery of goods and food items, it will hinder its usage in the e-commerce and logistics industry.
- Also criticised the blanket restriction on the height limit of 400 feet. According to them, this would restrict the drones to amateur usage only and would hinder its use in mapping or surveying.
Drone Regulations 2.0 Policy:
The government has announced that it will soon come up with Drone Regulations 2.0 Policy. Key issues to be addressed there would include:
- Certifications of sale and controlled operation of drone hardware and software
- Airspace management through automated operations linked into the overall airspace
- Beyond visual-line-of-sight operations
- Contribution to establishing global standards
The drone policy 2.0 is policy roadmap for establishing a fully functional drone ecosystem that would allow commercial usage of drones in India.
The policy seeks to establish segregated airspace, namely the Drone Corridor, to keep commercial drone operations away from airspace where manned aircraft operate.
This will be enabled through a UTM system, responsible for managing
drone induced traffic. The policy also envisages laying down new principles for enhanced airworthiness requirements keeping in mind commercial operations that the drones may be engaged into.
Apart from the inclusion of improved pilot training requirements, it also permits the use of algorithms for piloting a drone, by removing the compulsory requirement of a human remote pilot itself.
However, such an autonomous drone will only be allowed, if the manufacturers of such drone can demonstrate the inclusion of principles such as safety, security and privacy in the design of the drone.
Regulation on use of drones in India should be effectively implemented to foster technology and innovation in the development of dronesand improve the ease of doing business, by sidelining unnecessary requirements and creating a single-window process.
The government should ensure protection of privacy of citizens by limiting the use of drones for surveillance.
It is important to use drones responsibly to minimize negative impacts on wildlife, including birds.
Possibilities of drone-related accidents should be minimized by strict enforcement of regulations.