Weaponisation of commercially-available small drones and quadcopters for low-cost, high-impact strikes, which was in a way pioneered by the Islamic State (ISIS) or Daesh in Iraq and Syria, has now jolted India for the first time.
Fortunately, the explosive-laden drone attack on the IAF station at Jammu did not cause much damage or inflict casualties. But with small drones being regularly used since mid-2019 to courier weapons, explosives and drugs to Punjab and J&K from across the border in Pakistan, it was only a matter of time before terrorists moved to the next level of using them for aerial strikes from the safety of stand-off distances.
With terror outfits rapidly adapting to technological advances, such attacks will only get sophisticated and deadlier in the future. “Other military bases and other critical civilian infrastructure like oil refineries could be targeted.
There is also the danger of terrorists using drones to deliver biological or chemical agents,” said a senior officer.
Indian military and police forces will have to fast gear up for such unconventional aerial warfare with induction of effective anti-drone technologies. These range from jamming and spoofing systems to disrupt the satellite or video command-and-control links of such drones for “soft kills” to laser-based directed energy weapons (DEWs) for “hard kills”.
DRDO has developed two anti-drone DEW systems, with a 10-kilowatt laser to engage aerial targets at 2-km range and a compact tripod-mounted one with a 2-kilowatt laser for a 1-km range. But they are yet to be productionized in large numbers.
The armed forces are now also importing a limited number of other systems like Israeli `Smash-2000 Plus’ computerized fire control and electro-optic sights, which can be mounted on guns and rifles to tackle the threat from small hostile drones in both day and night conditions.
But the harsh reality is that the Indian security forces are currently not equipped to tackle such threats. The military’s air defence systems, with advanced radars and missiles, are meant to counter large drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
“Small drones, which can even be launched from a balcony in a building and have a flying range of 4-5 km, have a very low radar cross-section and cannot be picked up or tracked like larger UAVs,” said a senior officer.
“It is virtually impossible to defend against such drones with conventional anti-aircraft guns or missiles. They are best countered by effective jamming and laser systems,” he added.
Military bases close to the borders with Pakistan, like the Pathankot and Jammu airbases, should be protected with such counter-drone systems at the earliest, say officials.
There has been at least some upgrade in ground perimeter security of military bases after seven military personnel and four terrorists were killed in the terror strike on the Pathankot airbase in January 2016. Now, the operational gaps in thwarting small drones also need to be plugged.