COUNTER-DRONE TECHNOLOGIES: NASCENT, BUT WITH ENORMOUS POSSIBILITIES
Geopolitics|March 2021
Designing and developing new countermeasures will require substantial investments, but they should not be hindrances in innovation, writes R CHANDRAKANTH
R CHANDRAKANTH

With belligerent neighbours on the northern and western fronts, India has no other option but to equip its armed forces with not just the necessary arms and ammunition, but also with signal intelligence (sigint), electronic intelligence (elint), communication intelligence (comint) and the conventional human intelligence (humint). And unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones of all sizes which fall into the first two categories have become an essential part of the arms stockpile as they not only are deployed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles but also in combat duties that may include destroying flying objects.

In the background of frequent skirmishes along the borders, the dispensation at the centre has been buying quite a number of drones (India accounted for 22.5 percent of global imports between 2008 and 2014). It placed orders for Heron from Israel and also mini drones from the USA, besides the two Predator drones which the Indian Navy has got on lease. Recently, the Indian Army awarded a $20 million deal to IdeaForge for an undisclosed number of the advanced version of Switch tactical drones, for operation in high altitude regions. This indeed will beef up India’s ISR capabilities. This is a welcome move. However, one must keep in mind that drones are easily available in the global market and one of the major manufacturers and suppliers is China. That obviously means the enemy has enough and more drones to be deployed for ISR and other rogue activities, though there have not been reports of any deployment of combat UAVs.

There has been an exponential increase in drone deployment across the world. According to Drone Industry Insights (DII), the global drone market is expected to touch $43 billion in 2024 at a CAGR of 20.5 percent and India is right up there, taking a substantial chunk of the market. It is well documented how drones can assist in security and surveillance; in environmental studies and monitoring; assist in disaster relief operations; in adventure, entertainment and allied sectors. However, when it comes to counter-drone technologies, it is a new development and rightly it is within the jurisdiction of the armed forces; paramilitary and police with regard to design, development and deployment. As UAS become less expensive, easier to fly and misuse, armed forces will be challenged by the urgency to quickly detect, identify and disable/destroy such aircraft.

DRDO working on anti-drone systems

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is already working on the development of counter-UAV technologies, the first of which was demonstrated during the 2020 Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations. The anti-drone system can bring down micro-drones through either jamming of command and control links or by damaging electronics of drones through laser-based directed energy weapons. “The comprehensive solution is to tackle the problem that drones may pose to national security agencies,” DRDO said in a statement. The anti drone system is now being offered to the Indian armed forces as this solution is said to be an effective counter to increased drone-based activity in India’s western and northern sectors. The anti-drone technology can detect and jam micro-drones at a distance of up to 3 km and laser a target 1 to 1.25 km depending on the wattage of the laser weapon.

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