Naxals Armed With Drones: Rogue UAVs Are Turning Out To Be India’s Next Big Security Headache

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Nov 20, 2019 04:06 PM +05:30 IST
Naxals Armed With Drones: Rogue UAVs Are Turning Out To Be India’s Next Big Security HeadacheRogue UAVs are posing a big security threat.
  • There are an estimated six lakh rogue or unregistered and unregulated UAVs in India, and security experts say every single one of them is a potential hazard.

    There is an urgent need to invest in R&D to develop new and effective counter-UAV systems.

The aerial intrusion by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), popularly known as ‘drones’, over two strategically-located Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camps in south Bastar region of Chhattisgarh last month has once again brought to the fore the threat posed by rogue UAVs.

Maoists are suspected to have flown the drones over the CRPF camps to map the installations and identify vulnerabilities. This intrusion comes close on the heels of a series of intrusions by heavy-lifting UAVs sent from Pakistan into Punjab a couple of months ago.

Those UAVs had reportedly delivered rifles, ammunition, counterfeit currency and narcotics to receivers in Punjab. There have been intrusions by Pakistani drones into Rajasthan and Gujarat as well in the past.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has now issued orders to Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) to shoot down such rogue drones. But, as the UAV intrusions in Bastar showed, aiming at or shooting down rogue drones is not always possible.

Thus, say security experts, a whole range of sophisticated technology is required to counter rogue UAVs. Such counter-UAV (C-UAV) technology should be inducted immediately and CAPF, paramilitary and the armed forces fighting terrorists, guarding vital installations and international borders, or engaged in various security operations have to be quickly trained to operate these sophisticated systems.

There are an estimated 6 lakh rogue or unregistered and unregulated UAVs in India. Every single one of them, say security experts, is a potential hazard. Drones can be used to map and collect information on strategic assets, disrupt commercial flights (as had happened at London's Gatwick Airport late last year), smuggle narcotics and arms across borders and even carry out assassinations or attacks on gatherings and vital installations.

India, says this news report, is one of the fastest growing markets for UAVs. According to global market intelligence, the Indian UAV market will reach Rs 6,200 crore by 2021. That is why, say experts, there is an urgent need to put in place C-UAV mechanisms, systems and protocols.

The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has framed a detailed set of guidelines and restrictions for operating UAVs in India (see this). All UAVs are required to get approval from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and then get unique identification number (UIN) and unmanned aircraft operator permit (UAOP) from the DGCA.

UAV operators also need to be trained by registered flight training organisations. They also need licences, which are to be reviewed and renewed periodically, to operate UAVs. The DGCA guidelines on UAVs that came into effect in December last year also lays down strict protocols for operating various types of drones.

Also, India has the unique no-permission-no-takeoff (NPNT) policy under which each UAV flight has to have a permission token loaded on the UAV autopilot to enable its take-off.

However, as is the case with many other laws and guidelines in the country, the mechanism to enforce the rules and ensure their compliance has been sorely lacking. That is why, say security analysts, there are more than 6 lakh unregistered or rogue UAVs in the country.

Why India Is Especially Vulnerable

India is a densely populated country where mass gatherings for social, religious, cultural and political events are commonplace. A drone attack on such a gathering, or a drone armed with explosives triggering the deadly payload over or on such a gathering can have catastrophic consequences.

Since a drone can be remote-controlled from anywhere within a 13 square kilometre area, it would be impossible to locate an operator of a rogue drone, especially from a densely populated area.

Also, electronic wireless tracking in cities with ever-increasing wireless activities is an operations-intensive task. The technologically-challenged regulatory and enforcement machinery in India is not equipped to effectively undertake this task. The growing air traffic in India and its busier airports are also highly vulnerable targets of rogue UAVs.

Counter-UAV Systems

A number of highly-sophisticated systems need to be put in place to counter the grave threat posed by rogue UAVs. They are:

  • Combined sensors using thermal cameras, acoustic sensors, optical cameras, radio-frequency scanners and spectrum analysers.
  • Interdiction: there are four types of interdictions — protocol-based interdiction, sensor-based interdiction, interdiction using jammers and physical interdiction.
  • GPS spoofing to take over a rogue or enemy drone’s communication system and fool it into landing safely at a secure zone.
  • Laser guns to bring down drones.
  • Air defence system comprising short-range surface-to-air missiles and machine guns to bring down enemy drones.
  • Drone net: A large net is flown in a ‘good’ drone towards the rogue drone, which then gets entangled in the net and is brought down.
  • Skywalls and Skyfences (read this).

However, all these anti-drone technologies are at a nascent stage and their applicability and success in the real-world scenario is yet to be proven. Also, while counter-UAV systems are prohibitively expensive, rapid advances in drone technology renders counter-measures obsolete within a short time.

Apex scientific research bodies like the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) have taken up counter-UAV related research and development (R&D) and technology aggregation projects. In August this year, the MHA constituted a committee under the BPRD to prepare a blueprint to counter ‘lethal attacks’ by UAVs.

The public sector Bharat Electronics Limited had developed a ‘drone guard system’ to detect, track and neutralise adversarial drones. But, say experts, the system is not effective and that is why various security agencies, including the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) that is tasked with protecting airports, are looking at the international C-UAV market.

There is an urgent need to invest in R&D to develop new and effective C-UAV systems, and also involve the private sector in this. Along with that, government agencies have to enforce the guidelines that have been put in place to regulate the sale and operations of UAVs.

Most importantly, the security agencies have to be trained to operate C-UAV systems effectively. The technology handicap that they suffer from now has to be addressed.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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