Drone warfare

Rishikanta Huirongbam *

The drone attack on the Jammu Air Force Station in the wee hours of June 27, 2021 injuring some soldiers and damaging the physical infrastructure, has opened Pandora’s box for modern asymmetric warfare.Security agencies in India have been anticipating the possible use of drones to target sensitive locations and military infrastructure.

It was only a matter of time that terrorists would deploy drones in targeting Indian territories. The recent attack is a rude wake call for India to enhance its anti-drone capabilities.The future of drones as equipment for asymmetric warfare has become a reliable option for many applications, e.g.,surveillance, attack, communication or transportation.

As compared to other conventional or existing options, drones’ applications are more cost-effective and dependable. Over the past two years, drones have been deployed regularly by Pakistan based outfits to smuggle arms, ammunition, and drugs into Indian territory. According to government figures, 167 drone sightings were recorded along the border with Pakistan in 2019 and 77 such sightings in 2020.

Evolution Of Drone Warfare

The idea of using drones in hostilities began in the 19th century, perhaps when Austrians bombed Venice with unmanned balloons. The term drone itself started to be used after the UK developed the Queen Bee, a radio-controlled bi-plane from the ground.Drones, as we know them today, is a result of successive technological developments in three phases.

In the 1970s, an Israeli aviation genius developed an aircraft with glider like properties that could stay in the sky for more than 24 hours. This ability was used during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia by the US. The Second crucial advancement came with using a transmitter to send the footage back to the operator.

Again, this improvement was made to advantage by NATO’s Generals in bombing Serbia, ultimately resulting in signing the Dayton Peace Accords. Now, the signal to control them and return the footage is transmitted through satellite networks. The US took the final step when the Air Force and CIA successfully fit drones with missiles. These satellite-controlled drones allowed pilots to maintain their aircraft from a distant base.

U.S. drones have been primarily used as reconnaissance aircraft for intelligence gathering, providing military intelligence, and finding and destroying terrorists and rebels. The use of these vehicles in the country has become politically easier as the footprint of a drone attack that can be carried out without personnel in the target area is small.

The US has conducted hundreds of airstrikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. Since then, the use of drones in combat has intensified. As investments in drones increase, the industry is becoming a fairly large sector, from civilian applications to military applications related to security and defence.

New Drone Policy

In general, drones are regulated by the Aviation Act of 1934. Civil Aviation Regulation 2021 already restricts UAV flight in prohibited areas within 3 km of the boundaries of civil, civilian and defence airports, military installations and installations. It also limits drones to areas within 2 km of the boundaries of strategic or important sites, excluding national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

Following the attack on Jammu Air Base and the emergence of new drone systems in the region, a new comprehensive drone policy was discussed at a high-level meeting presided over by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Regulations 2021 was released.This policy underscores the government’s intention to ensure national security through the simultaneous use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

According to the new guidelines, imports of drones and their components must be regulated by the Foreign Trade Secretary General and the Drone Promotion Committee, creating a business-friendly regulatory environment. The government has cancelled the requirements for obtaining pilot licenses for micro drones, nano drones, and research institutes.

It also eased restrictions on the use of drones by foreign companies registered in India. Drone bans were introduced after double attacks in Jammu and Kashmir. The drone ban is in force in Srinagar, Bahaullah, Ganderbal and Bandipora districts in the Kashmir division, and Rajouri and Samba in the Jammu division.

Proliferation of Drones - A Threat?

The 21st century drones offer many features, including stealth, at a much lower cost. The relatively low cost of UAVs has allowed even small countries and terrorist groups to develop varying levels of drone strike capabilities. UAVs are becoming a dilemma for front-line air defences and private infrastructure such as airports and refineries, such as attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

Drones and drone swarms present a challenge to air defence systems as they can be effectively used to defeat advanced defence systems. Using drones, even a small terrorist organization can cause serious damage to aviation.

Despite improvements in drone technology and surveillance systems in India, India still faces many challenges in responding to these attacks from the other side. Low-flying silent drones are a nightmare for security forces because they are difficult to detect and destroy. Stealth is added to this problem, making it difficult for advanced radars to detect.

The DRDO’s Anti-drone technology system provides both the “soft kill” and “hard kill” options to the emerging air threats. DRDO’s RF/Global Navigation Satellite System detects the frequency used by the controller, and the signals are then jammed. The Indian Air Force plans to procure ten such systems armed with laser-directed energy weapons to bring down rogue drones to enhance the anti-drone system.

Private industries cannot be left out entirely in the development of drone technology as there are firms that manufacture reliable and futuristic anti-drone systems. For example, systems such as ‘Indrajaal’, India’s drone dome developed by Hyderabad Grene Robotics. Public-private partnerships in this area will further strengthen India’s unmanned aerial vehicle systems.

In light of recent attacks, countering drone attacks has become very important. It cannot be ignored as a security threat. Without the right balance between drones and drone combat, only improving attack and surveillance can backfire. Due to the recent proliferation of drone technology and the exponential growth and availability of the market, even the safest cities in the world cannot rule out the possibility of drone attacks.

Drones are becoming a security threat, especially in conflicts where non-state actors can operate and easily access technology. Drones and autonomous systems will be a big step forward after the internet revolution. This could be a low-hanging fruit for India, a country with huge human resources and an emerging IT sector.

By investing in future defence, India must consider the challenges and opportunities presented by the evolution of warfare. As countries face strategic threats, targeted investments in cyber and electronic countermeasures focused on the domestic use of unmanned systems will also help.

* Rishikanta Huirongbam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on December 01 2021.

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