Explained: Facing up to the drone challenge

Source: Indian Express1 Indian Express1

Relevance: How is India placed in drone technology and offensive measures to counter-drone attacks in the future?

Synopsis: Recent attacks on air force base in Jammu should force the Indian security establishment to speed up its drone and anti-drone tech development. Challenges involved, and the current scenario.

Background

Last week, two drones dropped an IED each packed with high grade-explosives on an Indian Air Force base in Jammu. It was the first-ever attack in India where suspected terrorists had used drones.

Also read: What is a drone?
Usage of drones in India

In India, the most commonly known drones are quad- and hexacopters used for civil and commercial purposes, and Heron drones used for military surveillance

What has been the Indian experience?

In the last few years, India and its enemies have frequently used drone surveillance against each other. There have been an estimated 100-150 sightings of suspected drones near India’s western border annually. Most of these are suspected to be surveillance drones.

Also Read: Drone challenge for India
How to tackle drones?

Drones have control and delivery mechanisms, and to counter them either you can counter the control mechanism by jamming, or can control the delivery mechanism. It depends on what kind of radar is being used, which is critical for the size of the UAV that needs to be detected.

Any kind of counter-strategy should give enough warning to positively identify that it is not a bird. Also, if you are firing, you don’t know what it is carrying. I

  • Currently, border forces in India largely use eyesight to spot drones and then shoot them down. It is easier said than done, as most rogue drones are very small and operate at heights difficult to target.
  • India has been exploring technologies to detect and disable drones using electromagnetic charges or shoot them down using laser guns. Technology to disable their navigation, interfere with their radio frequency, or just fry their circuits using high energy beams have also been tested. None of these has, however, proven foolproof.
Challenges in tackling small drones

Conventional radar systems are not meant for detecting small flying objects, and, even if they are calibrated that way, they might confuse a bird for a drone and the system may get overwhelmed.

Global anti-drone systems
  • Drone Dome: Rafael, the defence company behind Israel’s famed Iron Dome missile system, has also developed something called the Drone Dome. Like the Iron Dome, which identifies and intercepts incoming missiles, Drone Dome detects and intercepts drones. Beside offering a 360-degree coverage”, the Drone Dome is also capable of jamming the commands being sent to a hostile drone and blocking visuals, if any, that are being transmitted back to the drone operator. Its highlight, however, is the precision with which it can shoot high-powered laser beams to bring down targets.
  • DroneHunter: US-based Fortem Technologies uses an interceptor drone called the ‘DroneHunter’ — to pursue and capture hostile drones. The DroneHunter fires from its ‘NetGun’ a spider web-shaped net to capture targets midair and tow them.
  • DroneGun: Besides the regular detection and surveillance, DroneShield, an Australian publicly listed company, also offers a portable solution in the form of a drone gun that can be used to point and ‘shoot’. The company’s DroneGun Tactical and DroneGun MKIII engage in radio frequency disruption that will disrupt the hostile drone’s video feed and force it to land on the spot or return to the operator.
Does India have an anti-drone technology?

Yes. The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has developed a detect-and-destroy technology for drones, but it is not yet into mass production.

  • The DRDO’s Counter-Drone System was deployed for VVIP protection at the Republic Day parades in 2020 and 2021, the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech last year, and former US President Donald Trump’s visit to Motera Stadium, Ahmedabad in 2020.
  • The DRDO system, developed in 2019, has capabilities for hardkill (destroying a drone with lasers) and softkill (jamming a drone’s signals). Its softkill range is 3 km and hardkill range between 150 m and 1 km.
  • It has a 360° radar that can detect micro drones up to 4 km, and other sensors to do so within 2 km. 

Although challenges related to technology’s strategic deployment and the money the government is ready to spend, still remain.

What are India’s plans to use drones in warfare?

The armed forces have been slowly inducting capacity. In 2020, Navy got two unarmed Sea Guardian Predator drones on lease from the US. The three forces want 30 of these UAVs between them.

  • The military has been working towards using small drones for offensive capabilities as well. On January 15, during the Army Day parade, the Army showcased its swarm technology, with 75 drones swarming together to destroy simulated targets.
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