UAVs in Manipur's ethnic clash

Khunjamayum Nirbason Singh *

Drones are changing the way we fight wars today. Still, it is also about the future, the age of artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous weapons, and the complex moral dilemmas we may all have to resolve.

Whether you refer to them as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, they are older than you might realize. The development of the modern drones that we are looking at today truly began at the turn of the millennium, which is mainly because this is the time when many new technologies emerged.

I remember when these remote-control toys first appeared about a decade ago. At the time, a man was selling a parrot quadcopter in the mall. As a self-proclaimed Radio-controlled (RC) enthusiast, I was immediately impressed by how quickly and accurately he controlled the electric quadcopter. Now that they are well-tested battlefield weapons, it astounds me.

One example is the continuing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Drones have become increasingly common on battlefields like the one in Ukraine. Their military benefits are clear, and they are particularly effective at taking on more conventionally powerful adversaries. However, as this technology becomes more sophisticated, it raises ethical concerns about when AI and autonomous weapons will be widely used and what those concerns might be.

Why Manipur ?

Just like Ukraine, Manipur is currently facing a new mode of warfare. Although we are not that advanced to use AI and autonomous weapons, such new upgrades can still harm the people of the State.

As we all know, the misery of a significant ethnic conflict has returned to Manipur; the clashes between the Meiteiís and Kuki-Zo communities have killed hundreds of people, left tens of thousands displaced and shocked the entire country. Families and civilians have been caught up in the bloodshed with its locally made bombs and sophisticated weapons.

In this ongoing ethnic clash, there is concrete evidence of the use of drones as a mechanism to drop artificial bombs and to conduct aerial surveillance; the use of technology in such a manner can only create adverse outcomes like civilians caught in the wrong place at the bad time.

The incident of 5th September, where an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) suspected to have been dropped from a drone by Kuki-Zo militants, was found at Oksongbung Makha Leikai near Hotel Elegance under Moirang Police Station in Bishnupur district.

This incident is just the beginning stage. The problem that we must be concerned about is that this clash has taken a turn, which can become more problematic and threatening for the Government and, more importantly, the people of Manipur.

At the beginning of this clash, no one believed that it would rise to such a catastrophic level where both sides would be using technologies in such a manner to gain an advantage over one another. Yet, the Government did not take concrete steps to reduce and minimize the use of sophisticated weapons and technologies. The incident of Oksongbung Makha Leikai is very new to our State, and many are unaware of its threats.

Why can it be threatening to the Government and the people ?

Let me explain with the help of some examples; as we all know, the direct displacement between two places is much less than the actual on-road distance.

If we talk about Khamenlok, one of the infamous areas well known for an incident in which nine Meitei volunteers were killed and nearly a dozen injured after miscreants opened fire and the Manipur Secretariat North Block, where all the essential buildings of Manipur Government are situated, the road distance between the two places in 25 km and the actual line distance between the two places in just 20 km.

If we talk about the line distance between Singda Dam and Kangla is around 16.47 km, and Bishnupur district to Imphal is around 25 km.

So, what if such an area of Imphal becomes a target and the Government disregards this situation ? If they do, they must be much more cautious because it is better to stop something before it happens instead of having to repair it or deal with its consequences after it already is.

Why am I mentioning all the distances and giving awareness to the Government and the people ? This is because drones currently available in the market and which are legal to purchase by anyone can cover the distances mentioned above with no difficulty.

For example, DJI Air 3 have a maximum flight distance of up to 32 km and a maximum flight time of 46 minutes, DJI Mavic 3 Classic have a maximum flight distance of up to 30 km and a maximum flight time of 46 minutes, and DJI Mavic3 Pro have a maximum flight distance of up to 28 km and a maximum flight time of 43 minutes. These drones have a payload capacity of about 1 kilogram.

A high-payload drone, however, is employed for more complicated jobs as well. Mainly, hybrid drones feature a gas and electric power supply that allows them to carry up to 9.07 kilogram of payload and remain in the air for around 2.5 to 2 hours.

To safeguard peopleís safety and well-being, living in places vulnerable to drone attacks can be worrying. As a citizen, I can only urge the current administration to develop some guidelines. While it is crucial to abide by the rules and recommendations of local authorities, here are some general safety measures that people in such locations may want to think about:

Stay Informed: Keep up with the most recent news, security advice, and alerts from administrative authorities. Be alert to any potential dangers or regions designated as high-risk locations.

Take Cover: If a drone attack alert is issued, take cover immediately in a firm structure or an underground area. Till the all-clear signal is given, stay away from windows and outside walls, and make sure you are in a protected area.

Be Alert: Stay alert and alert the authorities to suspicious behavior or objects. Keep an eye out for any strange drone activity or aircraft nearby.

Avoid Crowded Areas: Refrain from congregating in crowded areas or prominent places that could be used as drone targets. Develop an evacuation plan. Be aware of the closest safe locations if you move your home immediately.

* Khunjamayum Nirbason Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The write is a postgraduate in Geography from the Delhi School of Economic (DSE), University of Delhi.
He can be reached at khunjamayum-nirbason(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on October 02 2023.

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