The drone challenge before India

Drones are a big challenge for India's security establishment

SourceIndian ExpressTOIBusiness-Standard, India Today 

Relevance: Strengthening India’s surveillance capabilities to deal with constantly evolving terror threats in the border areas esp. J&K 

Synopsis: The recent drone attack on Air Force Station Jammu has raised some doubts about the robustness of India’s intelligence and surveillance capabilities in the sensitive border regions. Drones have been a threat for a while but received little serious consideration. This will change now. 

Why are drones so dangerous? 
  • First, they are cheap and can be bought online by anyone. Checking who’s buying drones for what purpose is virtually impossible currently. 
  • Second, anonymity is afforded to the user due to drones’ uncontrolled proliferation. 
  • Third, drones do not require much technical expertise to use.  
  • Fourth, use of drones by terrorists causes a disproportionate psychological effect on people as well as on security personnel. 
  • Fifth, terrorist drones can be deployed anywhere in the country, not just security/military installations. The state’s expensive weapons system or massive deployment of troops are of little use.
Also read: UAVs and threats posed by them – Explained in detail
  • Detecting drones is difficult: They are battery-powered, and hence relatively quiet. They can be manually controlled or programmed to fly low giving the defender very little warning time. Also, detection by normal civil and military radars is difficult as their radar cross-section is very small; their small size makes visual acquisition problematic too.
  • Neutralization of drones is tough: When a drone makes an approach at night or drones are used in a swarm to saturate defenses, quick response can be difficult.
  • India’s underdeveloped drone capabilities: India’s own capabilities to detect drones/UAVs have not yet developed successfully. The Indian security forces have been testing anti-drone jammer technology along the border. But it now turns out that communications between domestic security agencies get jammed when this system is deployed.
  • Intensify observation: There is a need for intensifying observation 24×7 to track likely places from where drones are launched.
  • Developing indigenous drone tech: India is certainly lagging behind in UAV and drone technology although we keep hearing of the DRDO having come up with a new design etc. They need to work seriously in operationalizing their range of UAVs and drones.
  • Supplementing indigenous tech with imports: Since R&D and manufacture of anti-drone systems are at a nascent stage in India, some numbers should be sourced through imports for certain vital areas.
  • Formation of a task force: A task force should be formed. This task force should be skilled at taking time-bound anti-drone measures.
  • Improving detection & engaging capabilities: Helicopters can be used to detect and engage UAVs. Tracking drones via optical or infra-red means or multi-sensors including sound can be done.
    • Efforts need to be accelerated to ensure detection and finding innovative ways to engage them.
    • Laser-based Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) is a possible defense system against drone attacks. In India, DRDO has developed two anti-drone DEW systems. They can use powerful lasers to engage aerial targets at a distance of 2 km. However, mass production of these systems is yet to take place.
  • Anti-drone protocol: A standing operating procedure based on an anti-drone protocol should be developed.
  • Need to broaden the guidelines: Government needs to avoid the knee-jerk response of restricting drones in the domestic arena, most of which is involved in such critical civilian work as mapping land to establish ownership records, or weather drones that survey crop output, floods, and droughts.
  • Maintain a graded list: Since it is impossible to address every vital installation, a graded list be made of those to be protected including personages too as the world has been witness to assassinations through unmanned systems, including drones.
  • Involving private players: Private industry should be involved. We have plenty of young and enthusiastic IT entrepreneurs whose startups need to be supported with finance for R&D.
    • The government’s iDEX initiative must enable multiple players as there are many sub-parts in an anti-drone architecture. Expecting one or two companies to produce the system as a whole will only delay the end-product.
  • Monitoring the proliferation of drones: A mechanism to monitor the proliferation of drones and anti-drone technology needs to be instituted quickly. The policy needs to legitimize legal players and prevent the technology from landing up in wrong hands.
Also read: Anti-drone guidelines by Indian government

Drone strike signals a major shift in the nature of cross-border terrorism along the Line of Control and the government urgently needs to develop and deploy countermeasures to ensure that it does not escalate into a bigger tragedy in this turbulent region.

Terms to know:

What are drones?

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