THE DRONE THREAT: AN UNMANNED REALITY
Geopolitics|August 2021
The drone threat is real and is far more difficult to neutralize than a modern fighter. Stealth and low cost of drones makes it an extremely affordable weapon in the hands of disgruntled non-state actors, argues TEJ PRAKASH SRIVASTAVA
TEJ PRAKASH SRIVASTAVA

The recent drone attack at Jammu airfield has brought out in the open the magnitude of drone threat. Who sent the weaponized drone is of no consequence? Can we protect our sensitive installations from near-certain future drone attacks is the issue that merits in-depth analysis? Do we really have an operational drone detection system available in large numbers acclaimed by a few on TV channels? For that matter does any nation in the world have a proven anti-drone system? General McKenzie, US Military Commander in the Middle East has this to say drones are the biggest threat to US forces in the region.

Weaponized drones visiting Jammu airfield in the wee hours of June 30 and dropping a few kg of explosives, fortunately, did not result in any major damage to men or equipment, but it has woken up a nation from slumber. We react only when an event takes place. Drones being used by ‘non-state actors’ for anti-national activities is nothing new. The use of drones in all fields has increased exponentially during the last decade, subversive activities and silent strikes, in particular.

The USA has used, as well as, faced weaponized drones extensively over the past three decades. Current drones are derived from the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) concept. UAVs are prohibitively expensive and require a huge ground control set up to use it as a weapon, recce platform and/or surveillance facility.

Micro miniaturization explosion has broken all technological barriers enabling ‘make at home/assemble at home’ drones to appear in the marketplace as toys. The USA, in its initial years, used ‘single use’ drones extensively. The accuracy achieved was not satisfactory because radio controlled drones had three major limitations; firstly, even a momentary interruption in radio signal connectivity allowed the drone to wander off from intended track, secondly, it was prone to jamming, and thirdly and most importantly a more powerful signal on the same frequency allowed someone else takes control of the drone.

With the Global Positioning System (GPS) emerging as the new frontier of navigation, drone control philosophy also changed overnight. Drones following pre-programmed GPS coordinates can neither be jammed nor controlled by another agency because the absence of radio signal required for controlling the drone was no longer available to misguide/intercept/control the drone. A toy class of drones equipped with a GPS facility has replaced the proverbial ‘homing pigeon’. The GPS-enabled drone will reach its intended destination without fail unless physically intercepted.

The need for physical drone interception, therefore, has become paramount to prevent drone attacks. A GPS enabled drone can be used for delivering medicines to inaccessible areas but the same drone can also deliver an explosive with equal accuracy and reliability. There is no way of establishing which drone is carrying medicines for delivery or pizza from pizza hut or an explosive. As on date there is no Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system on the drones. Only known IFF system-equipped drones are with USAF.

Are we then going to engage and shoot every drone that is seen? An impractical and unachievable task. Problem with drone detection are;

• Extremely Low Noise Level: Low noise does not permit spotting of drone until it is virtually overhead

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