News Brief: Pakistan-Based Groups Use Drones Regularly For Surveillance, Smuggling Drugs, Arms, Fake Currency Across Border

by Swarajya Staff - Jun 28, 2021 03:29 PM +05:30 IST
News Brief: Pakistan-Based Groups Use Drones Regularly For Surveillance, Smuggling Drugs, Arms, Fake Currency Across BorderSource: @rohanduaT02/Twitter
  • While this was first instance of a drone attack on a defence installation in India, Pakistan-based groups have been using drones regularly for the past two years to smuggle drugs, arms, ammunition and fake currency across the border.

    As per government data, 167 drone sightings in 2019 and 77 in 2020 were recorded along the Pakistan border.

On 27 June, India witnessed for the first time what is suspected to be a drone attack on a defence installation in the country.

Late night yesterday, around 1:40 am, two explosions took place within six minutes of each other at the Jammu Air Force Station, leaving two Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel injured. The high-security station is a technical airport and hosts helicopters and transport aircraft only.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are suspected to have dropped and detonated two explosive devices, The blasts were low-intensity and caused minor damage. One detonated on the roof of a building while the other exploded in an open area. Reportedly, there was no damage to any equipment.

The authorities have termed it a “terror attack” and an FIR has been registered under the relevant sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act; Explosive Substance Act; as well as the Indian Penal Code.

A probe is on, and a National Investigation Agency (NIA) team, besides the IAF teams, are already on site looking the evidence. A few individuals have also been questioned. The investigators suspect the use of a drone or a quadcopter in the attack.

Since the suspected quadcopter has a limited range, the investigators are looking at the possibility of the attackers operating the drone in close vicinity. The station is about 14 km from the Pakistan border and it is yet to established whether the drones were flown across it. The preliminary findings reportedly suggest that the target was to damage a helipad inside the station.

The explosives used for the blast were apparently high-quality, hinting at a professional job instead of amateur.

On the same day, Jammu Police had also found an improvised explosive device (IED) weighing about 5 kg. It is possible that the same group in involved in both the cases.

Defence analyst Shiv Aroor says that such low intensity blasts are almost always trial runs to test penetration, signal links, blast effects, ground preparation, response etc.

While this was first instance of a drone attack on a defence installation in India, over the past two years, drones have been deployed regularly by Pakistan-based outfits to smuggle arms, ammunition and drugs into Indian territory, notes a The Hindu report.

Drones are a convenient choice because unlike regular aircraft, they fly low, and hence, go undetected by the radar. Shooting down the drones is easier said than done as it requires sniper fire and the drone to be within range. Sighting drones is also a challenge, especially during night time. Commercially-available small drones and quadcopters can be used for low-cost, high impact attacks.

As per government data, 167 drone sightings in 2019 and 77 in 2020 were recorded along the India-Pakistan border.

May 2021: the Border Security Force (BSF) detected weapons dropped by a suspected drone from Pakistan in the Samba sector, Jammu, and recovered arms and ammunition wrapped in yellow polythene - 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.

January 2021: Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Police caught two persons picking up a consignment of 16 grenades, two AK-74 rifles, nine AK magazines, a pistol and ammunition smuggled via drones.

December 2020: Punjab Police seized 11 grenades from a sugarcane field near the international border in Gurdaspur, Punjab, that were air-dropped from Pakistan. The BSF personnel noticed a drone near the Chakri outpost at 11.30 pm, and opened fire, forcing it to fly back. The subsequent search led to the arms consignment.

October 2020: Indian Army shot down one drone along the Line of Control in the Keran sector of J&K. The DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone made by a Chinese company and fitted with cameras, was spotted hovering in the air by the alert troops.

June 2020: The BSF shot down a hexacopter UAV near Rathua village in the Hira Nagar sector of Jammu carrying an American-made M4 rifle, several Chinese grenades, two magazines, and 60 rounds. The payload carried the name “Ali Bhai” who, the BSF suspected, “must have been present within 1-1.5 km of the spot to receive the consignment”.

In another case the same month, a consignment was dropped through three drone sorties outside Dharamkot Randhawa in Gurdaspur in Punjab, containing two MP-9 guns, six pistols and Rs 4 lakh in counterfeit currency. The role of Pakistan-based Khalistan Zindabad Force chief Ranjeet Singh Neeta was revealed.

September 2019: Punjab Police had busted a pro-Khalistan terror module with a consignment dropped via drones containing five AK-47 assault rifles with 16 magazines, four pistols of China make with eight magazines, nine grenades, 472 cartridges, Rs 10 lakh in counterfeit currency, and five satellite phone sets.

A BSF official was also quoted as saying that surveillance drone flights are “very frequent” and there are 10-15 sightings every day.

The Challenge

Weaponised drones were reportedly first used by the Islamic State in 2016 in northern Iraq and later in Syria. Concerns have been raised since then regarding the use of UAVs for terrorism and organised crime. Last year, Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US drone attack.

The current incident shows a combination of three trends in security landscape of India, one, the blurring of the line between internal and external security; two, increasing use of UAVs; and three, increasing use of IEDs.

In response, the government is exploring various tech-based solutions, including anti-drone jammers. These jammers can cut radio frequency and disable GPS, the two key technologies used by a majority of drones.

“..Anti-drone jammers cannot be that effective in the border areas, but they can be deployed at security-sensitive installations to prevent such attacks in future,” an official was quoted as saying.

Apart from this, the security agencies can use video command-and-control links of such drones for “soft kills” and laser-based directed energy weapons for “hard-kills”. DRDO has reportedly developed two such systems.

The armed forces are also importing other systems like Israeli Samsh-2000 Plus with electro-optic sights and computerised fire control. It can be mounted on guns and rifles, and can be used in both day and night.

But there is more to be done. India needs to develop a standard operating procedure for dealing with foreign drones, and detailed guidelines for operation of the domestic ones.

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