For the first time in India, drone mounted with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) has been used to attack a military installation. The two low intensity explosions by drone mounted IEDs on the Indian Air Force Station in Jammu on the intervening night of 26/27 June 2021, has left two Air Force personnel with minor injuries and also damaged the roof of a building near the technical area. This attack can be seen as a ‘paradigm shift’ in the security threat that India faces from the drone strikes. It is a matter of investigation as to who actually are behind these attacks— whether it is the Pakistan Army, or the Pakistan based terror tanzeems or the local terrorist. On the same day, in the outskirts of Jammu, two LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) have been arrested with IEDs and other explosives.
Such an attack using drone might be the ‘first of its kind’on the Indian territory, but Pakistan has been using drones for surveillance and also to transport drugs, arms, ammunitions including assault rifles and other high intensity explosives over the last two to three years especially across the international border in Punjab and Jammu region. Some of such drones have however been successfully neutralised by the Border Security Force (BSF) and other security agencies within 200-250 Mts from the International Border (IB). The most recent one was a month ago on 14 May 2021, when the BSF detected weapons dropped by a suspected drone from Pakistan in Jammu’s Samba sector. Based on an intel received, BSF troops conducted a search operation in the area, and recovered arms & ammunitions wrapped in yellow polythene from a field— these included an AK-47 assault rifle, a pistol, a magazine round, 15 rounds for a 9 mm weapon, a wooden frame used to attach the payload to the drone and wrapping material.
Coming on to the recent Jammu attack, although the attack was a minor one, but it clearly shows the capabilities of modern-day technology that can be used by a non-state actor in carrying out much bigger attacks with minimum human involvement. To avoid detection, most of these drones fly at night, at low level from the ground to avoid radar detection and the pilot/operator of the same is stationed very near to the intended target site so as to successfully complete the operation of delivering the payload.
Threat to India from UAVs
Attacks in the technical area of the Jammu Air Force station has opened up a new threat paradigm for the security agencies—drone threat that was only discussed as a possibility by many experts in leading think tanks and leading newspapers, has now turned out to be a reality even before we had imagined it to be. Drone used in attacking the Jammu Air Force station used the exact same technology that commercial E-commerce or pizza delivery companies use. Therefore, if these commercial items can be delivered so are the IEDs and other explosive materials with precision. These drones can be programmed to target, route, distance and height making it more deadly because such a commercial use of drones can have devastating effects on the security installations across India. Many of the military cantonments, sensitive areas, air force stations, navy stations, nuclear installations, high value economic establishments, heritage monuments, etc. are in proximity or adjacent to residential areas, making them all the more vulnerable to these type of attacks, as the pilot of such drones can take easy cover inside the residential buildings from where they can operate and successfully execute the intended attack with precision, inflicting huge damage— economically and strategically. Therefore, such use of drones can also cause fatal casualties on the civilians as well.
Rising the perimeter wall, having barbed or electric wires across, is no more a solution to this new type of attacks as the drones can easily rise and cross the wall with less or absolutely no detection from the ground patrol forces. Commercial drones have the capability to carry 15-20 kgs or more payload which is enough for significantly damaging the targeted area.
With terror outfits rapidly adopting and deploying new age technologies such as drone and other Lethal Autonomous Weapon System (LAWS), it is time we take effective measures to counter such threats.
- Counter Drone Technology. We can no longer procrastinate with respect to drone attacks— its right at our doorstep. Therefore, we should speed up our production of the ‘two’ anti-drone technologies being developed by DRDO— one with a 10-kilowatt laser to engage aerial targets at 2km range and the second, a tripod mounted with 2 kilowatt laser to engage with 1km range. However, these are yet to start production in large numbers. Right budget allocation and faster production should be pushed by the government by method of technology transfer (ToT) to private industries with an aim to boost the production.
- Strategic Collaboration. India should fast acquire technologies for future production under ‘Make in India’ programme and import initially in rapid manner from its strategic partners like Israel and US who have developed these high stealth technologies in detecting small drones effectively and jamming them by using high frequency infra-red waves. We are in the process of acquiring ‘Smash-2000 Plus’ computerised fire control and electro-optic sights, which can be mounted on guns and rifles to tackle the threat— both in day and night operations.
- Regulations of Small Drones. As per the multi- security agency report of 2019, there are around 6 lakh ‘unregulated drones’ in India at present with various sizes and payload capacities, any of these can be used to carry out nefarious attacks on any vital/sensitive installations in India. With such impending threat, we need to have standard operating procedures (SoPs) for every security agency starting from beat level police to border security agency on how to deal with the new lethal technologies and what are the plan of actions in case of an adverse drone being sighted near any of the sensitive areas. A dedicated technical wing to counter these rogue drones with all the available technologies like the drone gun, drone catcher and other advanced technologies must be present in every major city, airports and other prime installations.
The recent attack is evident of the fact that, we are not yet completely prepared for the new age unmanned warfare. The attack might just be an indication of a larger threat in the future. To avoid, we should invest in anti-drone technology, new technological innovation and development, expand our international cooperation, good defence industrial corridor, public- private partnerships for production. Along with these, we should actively monitor the activities near the prime installations, airports and other sensitive areas across the country with the help of the local police. A close coordination between the various Intelligence and Security agencies with a strong policy of regulation from the Government is the way ahead. Theaterisation of commands, which are in discussion, must also take the emerging technologies into account and be prepared for any future war. It is time that India stops being a ‘reactionary state’ and ‘be a proactive state’ with respect to innovation, development, production and deployment of newer technologies to prevent any such future attacks.
Indian Air Force Twitter handle, 27 June 2021. Accessible at https://twitter.com/IAF_MCC/status/1408986123083206663?s=20. Accessed on 28 June 2021.
Sanjay Khajuria, “Jammu police foil major terror attack, arrest LeT terrorist with 5-kg IED”, The Times of India, 27 June 2021. Accessible at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/terror-attack-foiled-trf-terrorist-arrested-with-5-kg-ied-in-jammu/articleshow/83890454.cms. Accessed on 28 June 2021.
“Border Security Force’s latest headache: Pakistani smugglers using drones to deliver drugs across border”, Times Now Digital, 06 June 2018. Accessible at https://www.timesnownews.com/india/article/border-security-forces-latest-headache-pakistani-smugglers-using-drones-to-deliver-drugs-across/236762. Accessed on 28 June 2021.
Deeptiman Tiwary, “Drones on security radar, one carrying arms tracked a month ago”, The Indian Express, 28 June 2021. Accessible at https://indianexpress.com/article/india/jammu-blast-pakistan-drone-attack-iaf-bsf-7378131/ . Accessed on 28 June 2021.
PTI, “India has over 6 lakh unregulated, rogue drones”, Business Today, 30 September 2019. Accessible at https://www.businesstoday.in/latest/economy-politics/story/india-has-over-6-lakh-unregulated-rogue-drones-229683-2019-09-30. Accessed on 28 June 2021.