Shockingly, two drones from across the border allegedly dropped IEDs on the Indian Air Force’s airport in Jammu, fortunately with minor damage but injuring two personnel, which is quite worrisome.
Two drones were spotted over the Kaluchak and Ratnuchak military stations in Jammu late on the night of June 27. Alert security personnel fired at the drones but could not bring them down. Resultantly, alert has been sounded at all military stations to ward off such surprise attacks. Counter-measures have been put in place to pre-empt such drone attacks on forward bases. Snipers and jammers are in place, among other measures.
Small drones have been used to attack state actors. Counter-drone technology will have to be deployed as countermeasures to tackle this threat and at the same time we must make sure we are able to detect this risk. Usage of drone technology by non-state actors represents a very major jump in the way the insurgency is playing out.
We need to first understand what drones represent as a risk to the Indian state. Broadly, you can differentiate this into three aspects ~ privacy risk (illegal surveillance), penetration risk (drones are used to gather intelligence), and security risk (to attack installations, smuggle contraband). In Syria, ISIS has been using drones to drop payloads from the sky and so have the Taliban.
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.
No single bullet is the solution. There are also economic challenges. Can we afford the various layers of counter-drone systems which will be most effective? Before you start using these systems, you need to determine areas that need high priority anti-drone systems. Drone technology will keep maturing. By the time you get a counter to one system, drone technology will have moved to the next level.
A drone attack is a watershed in asymmetric warfare and underlines the need for the armed forces to build capabilities to deter, detect and neutralise such aerial threats.
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat on June 28 told a TV channel that the three services, the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), academia and other stakeholders were working together to develop technology to counter the threat from drones at the earliest.
He said DRDO has already achieved some success and even demonstrated its anti-drone technology. DRDO has developed anti-drone technology to disable or shoot down hostile drones. Its anti-drone system has a range of two to three kilometres with radar capability to pick up the drone and then use frequencies to jam the unmanned aerial vehicle.
A top government official said DRDO has transferred the technology for the production of its anti-drone system to Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). “DRDO has written to the three services and informed them that the anti-drone system is available,” he said. DRDO is also ready to transfer technology to private industry to produce the anti-drone system, he added.
Pakistan-backed terrorist groups and its Inter-Services Intelligence have been using drones to smuggle arms, ammunition and drugs across the border into J&K and Punjab, but never have drones been used before for attacking a military base.
India has an estimated six lakh plus rogue or unregulated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and security agencies are analysing modern anti-drone weapons like ‘sky fence’ and ‘drone gun’ to counter terror or similar sabotage bids by these aerial platforms. An official blueprint prepared by central agencies says that unregulated drones, UAVs and remotely-piloted aircraft system are a “potential threat” to vital installations, sensitive locations and specific events and a “compatible solution” is required to counter them.
Recent incidents like the lethal drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest petroleum company and arms dropping by UAVs in Punjab from across the India-Pakistan border has alerted Indian security and intelligence agencies.
These agencies are now looking at some specific anti-drone techniques like sky fence, drone gun, ATHENA, drone catcher and Skywall 100 to intercept and immobilise suspicious and lethal remote-controlled aerial platforms.
A drone gun is capable of jamming the radio, global positioning system (GPS) and mobile signal between the drone and the pilot, and forces the drone to ground in good time before it can cause any damage. This Australia designed weapon has an effective range of 2 kms. Another solution to block a lethal drone is the sky fence system that uses a range of signal disruptors to jam the flight path and prevent the drone from approaching its target, which could be a sensitive installation or event venue.
A Bengaluru-based company, BEML and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) among others showcased the latest technology available in this domain to participants of a national conference, which included officials from the Indian Air Force (IAF), the airports’ guarding force, CISF, Directorate General of Civil Aviation and Airports Authority of India among others, they said. A drone gun and sky fence look like feasible solutions and are being recommended to the government for consideration, a senior official in the security establishment said.
ATHENA, acronym for Advanced Test High Energy Asset, is another weapon under analysis as it works by firing a high-energy laser beam on a rogue drone resulting in its complete destruction in the air.
However, this is a very costly technology and is being currently tested by the US army, officials said. A ‘skywall 100’, is the ground version of the ‘drone catcher’ and it works by bringing down an UAV using a parachute that is hurled through a net from 100 meters distance.