Two explosives-laden drones crashed into Indian Air Force (IAF) station at Jammu airport. The attack is believed to be first-ever offensive use of drones to target an Indian military facility raising security concerns.
Drone use in the past
- Drones are being used for military purposes since 1990s.
- Instances of Drone Usage: Used in Gulf War by USA, used against Al-Qaeda by US, Islamic State used drones in Iraq and Syria, Houthi rebels used drones to attack oil facilities in Saudi Arabia etc.
- However, the new threat is the use of drone by non-state actors for terrorism.
India and drones
- In the past, weapons have been dropped into J&K using drones. They have also been used for surveillance and providing cover to terrorists.
- In the recent years there have been estimated 100-150 sightings of suspected drones near India’s western border annually, most for surveillance.
Challenges posed by Drone attacks
It is a low-cost easily accessible tool in the hands of terrorists and have become a key component of modern-day warfare.
Types of rogue drones:
- Autonomous drones: Drone controlled by onboard computers programmed to navigate to a fixed target and do not require real time human control.
- Drone swarms: where hundreds of drones try to confuse the system is another challenge that needs to be tackled.
- Stealth drones: Drones designed to reduce their radar signature and can be operated in patterns making them difficult to detect. To evade acoustic detection, rotors can be modified to dampen drone’s engine noise.
- Drones can be used to smuggle arms and drugs, targeting VVIPs, reconnaissance & surveillance, electronic attacks, delivery of weapons of mass destruction, messaging etc.
- Conventional Radars cannot detect drones. If calibrated for small objects, radars confuse them for birds.
- Indian forces use eyesight to trace and shoot such drones. However, drones flying at heights are difficult to target.
- Technologies to disable and shoot drones like – interfering with their radio frequency, shooting them with energy beams have not been fully successful.
- Tackling drones that attack from within the national boundary is also challenging.
- Anti-drone systems are expensive for defenders, while drones are cheaper for attackers.
- Provides Pakistan opportunity to use them clandestinely, which saves it from being blamed for terror attacks in India.
- Could pose a threat to essential civilian infrastructure such as dams, power plants and bridges.
- Threat of air collision between drones & manned aircraft.
These are systems that are used to detect and intercept unmanned aircraft. These technologies have already been extensively used in civil arena and combat zones including base protection, airspace protection at airports, security during large events and major sports gatherings, VIP protection etc. For ex. Counter drone systems have been routinely employed during Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations in Delhi.
There are two components of Counter-Drone systems: 1) Detection & 2) Interception
Early detection and identification is the key to effective neutralisation of the UAV threat which can be undertaken by a combination of sensors. Some detection systems for counter drone measures are:
a) Radar: These systems can pick-up drones of the size of small birds using very low transmitted power.
b) Electro-optical/InfraRed: They monitor for drones in visible light and infrared spectrum.
c) Radio Frequency: Most drones are linked with operator on ground using a radio link. External properties of data link’s signal can be used for approximate position of drone and operator.
d) Acoustic sensor: These sensors detect noise signatures created by UAV motors and propellors. However, these have limited range and suffer from high nuisance (false) alarm rates (especially in urban environments).
e) Passive coherent locator system: A passive radar system, which utilizes third-party transmitters like Television broadcasts, FM Radio or Mobile Telephone to detect a target and provide location, heading and speed information. A PCL system is capable to detecting extremely small signal changes scattered by micro drones.
Deals with response and neutralisation of drones by focusing on denial of mission of rogue drones and their destruction. The options for response range from diverting UAV in a different direction, capturing it, or to destroying it broadly. Neutralisation measures being utilised by counter UAV system are:
a) Kinetic kill: Currently, most relied and preferable option for neutralizing rogue drones. Ex. Shooting down with sniper rifles, using anti-aircraft guns and missiles, deploying fighter aircrafts, depending on the situation. However, high level of skill and expertise is required from shooter.
b) High Power Electromagnetic Weapons (HPEM)/Lasers: This can be used in scanning and neutralization. It utilizes high energy beams focused on the drones to physically burn the drone or a part of it. However, lasers are affected in adverse weather conditions, can cause hazard to humans. Also, it is difficult to keep them focused on the UAV.
c) Radio Jamming: Rogue UAV is identified and targeted with an electromagnetic signal strong enough to overwhelm the system’s controls. However, UAVs are specifically encrypted to withstand these attempts.
d) GPS Spoofing: drone is confused to forget its waypoints and go into auto-pilot mode and in this stage; it is directed to obey new commands. Thus, this system removes threat and gives access to adversary’s technology for analysis.
e) Drone Capture Nets: Capture nets can be used from ground as well as a hunter-killer drone. The net encompasses drone and causes it to cease flying by disrupting propulsion system. However, range of these capture nets are limited. Variants of this system like Drone-on-Drone and Bird-on-Drone are also used.
Global Counter Drone Systems
- Rafael has built a Drone Dome technology, offering a 360-degree coverage. It can jam signals and visuals being sent out by the drone. It has high precision in shooting the drone with high powered laser beams.
- US based Fortem technologies uses interceptor drone technology – “Drone Hunter”. It fires a net to catch the drone mid-air.
- An Australian company claims to have developed a Drone gun which can pinpoint and shoot the drone.
India’s preparedness for such attacks
- DRDO has developed a detect-and-destroy technology for drones. It was deployed for VVIP protection on Republic Day parade, Independence Day and the Namaste Trump event. It has capabilities of both:
- Hard kill – destroying a drone with lasers.
- Soft kill – jamming a drone’s signals.
- Range is very limited between 1 to 3 Kms.
India’s offensive drone capability
- India has Heron surveillance drones developed by Israel and Harop Loitering Munition systems which is an attack weapon system designed to locate and precisely attack targets.
- India is looking to acquire MQ9 Reaper drones from USA. Also called ‘Predator’ drone, can detect targets using its inbuilt sensors and radars.
- HAL, India is developing CATS Warrior drones. It will have a mother vehicle – a fighter jet operating 700 km away that will be able to strike enemy targets through unmanned drones. Fighter jets guiding unmanned drones can remain 150 km behind and control and give directions to four unmanned vehicles called CATS Warriors.
- HAL is also developing rotary unmanned aerial vehicle or ‘drone helicopter’, which can operate at 15000 feet. It will be crucial for speedy transportation of supplies in harsh high-altitude areas .
- Indian Army is buying indigenous Switch UAVs meant for day and night surveillance of high-altitude areas.
- India has developed a National Counter Rogue Drone Guidelines by Ministry of Civil Aviation.
National Counter Rogue Drone Guidelines
- Devise an automated UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system for low-altitude airspace to provide hyper-local and real-time information for managing UAS traffic. This would ensure that only authenticated UAS could operate in airspace.
- UTM needs to have surveillance, navigation, communication, traffic de-confliction and emergency assistance aids to regulate drone traffic in real time.
- Prevent drones from straying towards notified vital installations, dynamic Geo-fencing may be implemented by permitting UAS to operate only along permitted trajectory in airspace and prohibiting of use of drones in certain areas.
- All UAS manufactured, imported or operating in India to be mandated to be equipped with appropriate navigation and communication software and hardware for live telemetry and data exchange. UAS must allow for operational command to be transferred to UTM service provider, at any time and capable to executing manoeuvres.
- Deploying counter UAS infrastructure at vital target systems. Towards this end, airspace regulators and security agencies shall be required to enhance capabilities to track, detect, identify and engage hostile drones in real time.
- Multiagency drone regulatory body to be developed with involvement of Air Force and Ministry of Civil Aviation for deployment of counter drone measures.
- Implementation of stringent airworthiness criteria and drone pilot training along with certification. Registration of drones as well as the vendors that are selling drones in India.
- Vulnerability analysis of drone needs to be identified based on Drone impact assessment.
- Legal framework for use of Counter drone systems by security agencies should be put in place.
- Interaction of R&D organisations and academia to develop systems for futuristic technologies.
Features of Unmanned aircraft systems rules 2021
- UAS categorised as airplane, rotorcraft and hybrid with further categorisation as remotely piloted aircraft, model remotely piloted aircraft and autonomous unmanned aircraft system.
- UAS classified as nano, micro, small, medium and large unmanned aircraft
- Mandatory for individuals and companies to obtain approval from the DGCA to import, manufacture, trade, own or operate drones
- No Permission- No Take-off (NPNT) policy adopted for all UAS except for those in the nano category
- Micro and small UAS are not permitted from flying above 60m and 120 m, respectively.
- UAS prohibited from flying in strategic and sensitive location, including near airports, defence airports, border areas, military installations/facilities and areas earmarked as strategic locations/vital installations by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
- Penalties have also been provided.